Hugo Chavez, Comandante

Radio 4’s book of the week, Comandante, is magnificent.

Rory Carroll’s narrative gives a subtle favour of Chavez, Venezuela and the reality of life there.

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The Miami Herald reviewed his book, which the radio programme is based on:

“In his latest book, Irish journalist Rory Carroll delivers an authoritative account of the complicated legacy of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who died this month. In Comandante, Carroll — who served as The Guardian correspondent in Caracas from 2006 until 2012 — describes in minute detail how Chávez, who ruled Venezuela from 1999 until his death on March 5, created something unique, “an authoritarian democracy . . . . a hybrid system of personality cult and one-man rule.” Here is Chávez not as a one-dimensional symbol but in all his complexity: The utopian socialist, the voracious reader, the vainglorious militarist, the bad husband, the doting father.

Even as he describes how Chávez empowered poor communities in Venezuela by creating communal councils and building homes for thousands of people who had never known decent shelter, Carroll succinctly outlines how the president squandered the great opportunity for durable development afforded to him by record-high oil prices, failing to diversify the country’s economy.

At the heart of this failure proves to be a desire — above all else — for power.

Chávez had a digital record of the names of three million people who had voted against him in a 2004 recall referendum, which was then used “to purge signatories from the state payroll, to deny jobs, contracts, loans, documents, to harass and punish, to make sectarianism official.” The mastermind behind the list, Luis Tascón, went on to become a strident critic of government corruption and was banished from Chávez’s inner circle before his own death in 2010.

Chávez’s opposition — a diffuse and disorganized group of former military allies, civil libertarians, the country’s besieged middle class and what Chávez would doubtless refer to as the country’s rancid oligarchy — never managed to unseat him. This is perhaps not surprising. They were faced with the cheerleading omnipotence of the ubiquitous state media — the result of Chávez’s war against Venezuela’s virulently hostile private media — and massive slush funds paid for with money siphoned from the state oil company.

Chávez did not ascend to and retain power alone, though, and contained in Carroll’s book are revealing snapshots of those who accompanied the president: The Machiavellian academic-turned-government-official Jorge Giordani; the gruff bus driver who would become foreign minister (and now president) Nicolás Maduro; the slippery former army officer Diosdado Cabello.”

A Damp Round Up Of World News

Lighter blogging than expected, so it’s a good time for a roundup.

Tom points to David Cameron’s greed, Cameron is the first PM to pocket private rent while living at number 10.

Bob from Brockley argues that the slaughter in Syria is not really covered in the Western media with any vigour. The old adage of, if it bleeds it leads, doesn’t always applied to certain parts of the Middle East.

Sexism down under, as Julia Gillard rips into her conservative opponent.

Owen Jones on Hugo.

To quote Carl Packman: “Why are @GeorgeGalloway and Ken Livingstone silent about their employer giving so many anti-Semites a platform? …”

Elsewhere, Ruskin College is accused of academic vandalism and destroying its own historical records.

Battle of the ads in NYC, the campaign to counter Pam Geller’s bigoted nonsense.

Fit for work? Don’t believe it.

The statistics are frightening: I missed it but the Mirror pointed it out in April 2012. Chris Tattershall’s treatment was atrocious.

“Panorama also revealed that between January and August last year, on average 32 people died every week who the government had declared could be helped back into work in the medium term. “

Malala Yousafzai and the Taliban. As CNN reports:

“The Taliban controlled Malala’s valley for years until 2009, when the military cleared it in an operation that also evacuated thousands of families. Last year, Malala told CNN she feared “being beheaded by the Taliban because of my passion for education. During their rule, the Taliban used to march into our houses to check whether we were studying or watching television.” She described how she used to hide her books under her bed, fearing a house search by the Taliban.”

Norm on the Guardian’s pandering. The Beeb’s Malala Yousafzai: Portrait of the girl blogger. Related, the Safe World for Women campaign has a message. Alex Andreou is sharp on the Tories:

“Last year, he framed his speech with “Britannia didn’t rule the waves with her armbands on”. This year he says “it is time to sink or swim”. An elegant, if unwitting, indication of how his thinking has moved on; from foolhardy champion swimmer to panicked doggy-paddler. The UK economy is fast becoming a small makeshift raft, cobbled together from antiquated dogma, U-turns and fiascos, adrift in a sea of global uncertainty. Selling off the planks to passing sharks is not a solution. When the water is ankle-deep, crew and passengers look to the captain for action, not regurgitated rhetoric, however deftly delivered. All he can do is stand there and shout passionately “The Free Market will save us! Enterprise will save us! Aspiration will save us!” Abstract, deified, neoliberal concepts without a smidgeon of policy, detail or budget to back them up. I recognised his speech for what it was: A drowning man’s gurgling prayer. “

Immigration detention centres in Britain. Bradley Burston’s appeal:

“Send a message. The asylum seekers want nothing more than to live productive lives and contribute to this society. It makes much better economic sense to integrate asylum seekers into work places and schools, than it does to waste millions on building, maintaining, and operating centers for endless detention of non-criminals and their children. “

Nikolas Kozloff’s Chomsky, Ali, and the failure to challenge the authoritarian left is damning.

Some say Keynes was right? The IMF?

Trending swastikas? Twitter shows that antisemitism is not dead, not even by half.

Atos and Scotland, I must start reading the Daily Record.

When next you meet a Press TV admirer remind them of how it openly pushes the Far and Extreme Right, plus a whole host of nasty racists.

Julian Assange and leaving Sweden.

Topically, sexual harassment and the 21st century.

Didn’t  anyone see this coming? Jean-Marie Le Pen backs Marine on kippah ban.

The UK Human Rights Blog is always worth reading, in particular, their post on Back in the spotlight: the detention of mentally ill asylum seekers.

In cult news, Scientology and the Nation of Islam. Even the free-wheeling Economist thinks Mitt Romney’s foreign policy is weak:

“In truth, his speech, though grave and stern in its delivery, was pretty short on policies that differ greatly from Mr Obama’s.”

B’Tselem’s camera project.

How a society treats minorities, women and rape victims is emblematic of its priorities.

Nick Lowles on football and how not to tackle racism.

Finally, lest we forget buttons, and why history is important, Kublai Khan.