Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The first casualty of tyranny is intelligence

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Regular readers of this blog, and perhaps others as well, will know that I am no fan of Hugo Chavez -- and that's putting it mildly. I have called him "The Tyrant of Caracas," writing post after post detailing his ongoing pursuit of absolutism, his brutalization of Venezuela, his dreams of anti-American supremacy. He calls himself a socialist, a Bolivarean revolutionary, a man of the oppressed masses, but, in truth, he is an abusive, egotistical thug. That's it in a nutshell. For more, see here (written before the recent referendum, which I was almost sure he would win -- he didn't, but he'll try again to acquire the powers denied to him by a majority of voters).

Still -- allow me to take a deep breath -- he's not all bad. Or, rather, not everything he does is bad. Consider, for example, his efforts to free the hostages held by FARC, Colombia's "Revolutionary Armed Forces," one of the world's more atrocious terrorist organizations. Here's The Guardian with the latest developments:

A mission spearheaded by Hugo Chávez and Oliver Stone to free three hostages held by Marxist guerrillas in the Colombian jungle was on a knife-edge last night after the rebels failed to deliver on the promised handover.

Venezuelan military helicopters bearing the Red Cross insignia sat for a third day in Villavicencio, a small town on the edge of Colombia's vast eastern jungles where the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known as Farc, holds sway. They waited in vain for the guerrillas to tell them where to fly to inside the rebel-controlled zone to pick up the hostages.

The mission is being watched by Latin American leaders, the US, France and other countries with citizens among the 3,000 hostages being held by Farc. They hope that the championing by Chávez -- the Venezuelan president -- of a political solution involving the exchange of hostages for jailed guerrillas could open the door to further releases.

A group of 10 international observers from Latin America, France and Switzerland included the unlikely late addition of Stone, a Hollywood director, who was invited to join the rescue mission only a week ago when he met Chávez in Caracas. Chávez quipped that Stone was George Bush's emissary to the operation; Stone in return called Mr Chávez a "great man". The two flew together to Colombia at the weekend on the presidential jet.

In an interview from Villavicencio with Associated Press, Stone said he had no illusions about Farc, "but it looks like they are a peasant army fighting for a decent living. And here, if you fight, you fight to win."

As bad as Chavez is, FARC is worse, and if it takes an abusive, egotistical thug like Chavez to work out a diplomatic solution, so be it. (For more on FARC, see here. See also Robert Kaplan's discussion of FARC and its atrocities -- and of U.S. special forces operations in Colombia, which is another issue entirely -- in his brilliant Imperial Grunts. This is a group that commits mass murder, engages in horrifying acts of brutality, profits off the drug trade, and essentially enslaves children.) Let's hope something good comes of this -- namely, the release of the hostages.

But what about Oliver Stone's involvement in this? I have long been a defender of Stone the filmmaker. I don't like all of his movies, but two of his more controversial efforts, JFK and Nixon, are genuine masterpieces -- not of veracity, perhaps, but certainly of filmmaking. And, of course, he has long had an interest in radical left-wing politics -- in Latin America, in particular. (See Salvador, for example.) Much of this interest, and much of the attention he has brought to his championed causes, has been worthy both of admiration and of emulation.

But it is one thing to address the plight of the downtrodden and to cast light on the operations of, say, right-wing death squads in El Salvador, quite another to go so far as to call Chavez a "great man" and to make apologies for FARC. Chavez is no "great man" in liberal and democratic terms, nor even in historical terms, whatever his aspirations, and FARC isn't some "peasant army fighting for a decent living" in the violent jungles of Colombia. On the latter point, one needn't side with the government in Bogota or approve of U.S. operations in Colombia in order to see FARC for what it is. It isn't an either/or situation. Unfortunately, Oliver Stone, in what may be a case of anti-American zeal, seems to think that it is. Either that, or he doesn't know what he's talking about -- a distinct possibility, to be sure.

Regardless, such stupidity notwithstanding, what matters here is the success of the effort -- the release of the hostages. But what then? What if the effort succeeds and the hostages are traded for guerrillas? Well, Chavez will still be Chavez and FARC will still be FARC. The former will continue his pursuit of absolutism; the latter will continue with its various atrocities.

Oliver Stone film(s) to follow, illusions and all.

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