Weisbrot in his Labyrinth

At times, you almost feel bad for Mark Weisbrot, the dean of the dwindling corps of quasi-respectable Chávez apologists in D.C. A few years ago, back when it was just about posible for a lefty with democratic sensibilities to sympathize with the Chávez Experiment, he took a couple of trips South and caught the bug. Soon enough, his mind was made up: he was going to go to the mat for the Bolivarian Revolution.

A series of disturbingly sycophantic Op-Eds later, the Weisbrot brand had been indissolubly hitched to the Chávez Era…and then, little by little, everything that his opponents said was going to happen started to happen.

The whole pump-out-the-oil, pump-in-the-petrodollars shtick that passes for "Economic Strategy" in the Chávez era was widely panned as unsustainable, liable to get the country stuck in a stagflationary funk and, in any case, disastrously exposed to the ups and downs of the world oil market. The guy dismissed all that, going on record saying Venezuela should just spend itself out of a recession and skip all the pain.

A couple of years later…Venezuela finds itself stuck in a stagflationary funk, with prices rising fast while output drops, unemployment rises, and the standard tools of Keynesian intervention stop working. Ooops…

By the same token, the regime he’d thrown his credibility behind started giving rise to concerns for the weird cult of personality at its center, and its dwindling tolerance for dissent. Weisbrot responded by dismissing what are becoming unmistakable signs of rising authoritarianism, the growing tally of political prisoners, the increasing criminalization of dissent, putting it all down to a shadowy conspiracy by a far right wing U.S. government to destabilize a popular movement that frightens it.

Then, a few years later…a liberal African American who first got into politics after reading Saul Alinsky gets elected to the White House – showing up the right-wing conspiracy cannard for the silly distraction it always was. At the same time, the Venezuelan regime’s authoritarianism grows stronger, more unmistakable, with more and more forms of dissent being criminalized, more and more people going to jail for their opinions, more and more radio stations shut down on pretexts that no impartial observer finds persuasive, and all under a cult of personality that grows more unhinged and quasi-religious by the day. Ooops…

I suppose Weisbrot figures he’s too far in by now to do anything but double down on what he must realize is a losing bet. And double down he will! As every part of the Weisbrotian defense of the Venezuelan strongman crumbles around him, the guy falls back more and more onto admit-nothing-deny-everything-launch-counter-accusations mode. 

And so it is that, a few years out, Comrade Weisbrot finds himself backed into a rhetorical corner of his own making. In effect, he is now arguing that if the European Parliament, Reporters Without Borders, the editorial board for Spain’s El Pais, the Brazilian Senate, Human Rights Watch, The Washington Post’s Editorial Board, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, Cofavic, the LA Times Editorial Board, Provea, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Amnesty International express serious concerns about human rights and civil liberties in Venezuela, that must be because there’s a sprawling right-wing campaign to discredit a government that’s pure as the driven snow…a campaign so far reaching, in fact, that it involves everyone from the European Parliament, Reporters Without Borders and the editorial board for Spain’s El Pais to the Brazilian Senate, Human Rights Watch, The Washington Post’s Editorial Board, the Interamerican Commission on Human Rights, Cofavic, the LA Times Editorial Board, Provea, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Amnesty International. Na’guará!

It’s not, you see, that the Chávez regime now governs through tactics that would wig out anyone with even a shard of democratic sensibility, and people distributed through each of those organizations witness the same facts, apply their judgment independently, and come to a broadly similar conclusion. Oh no.

It has nothing to do with Oswaldo Álvarez Paz spending another day jail for voicing opinions the government dislikes, or with Maria Lourdes Afiuni rotting away in jail for handing down judicial decisions without permission from her political higher ups, or the fact that when the office of the Central University’s Rector is attacked by arsonists it’s the Rector who’s called in for questioning rather than the arsonists, or that everybody who works in radio and TV right now knows that a single beyond-the-limits opinion expressed on the air could cost you and all your colleagues their livelihoods…¡no! 

In Weisbrot-land, the growing chorus of rejection to the authoritarian bullshit we see in Venezuela everyday is, in fact, the opposite of a reason to believe Venezuela is becoming more authoritarian: instead, each new voice added to it serves as additional evidence of just how far-reaching the nefarious campaign to slander the regime is. 

It’s an ideology hermetically sealed to new facts, armored plated against reality, designed from the ground up to protect those who hold it from ever having to engage with the substance of the charges made. 

Or, as it’s known in Venezuela, it’s chavismo: plain and simple.