March 31, 2014

In Caracas, students shame OAS with peaceful protest

Ignoring human rights abuses in Venezuela in exchange for cheap oil

This is an updated version of a piece originally published at FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

Massive and bloody anti-government street protests have roiled Venezuela for two months. But for a week now, hundreds of protesters have gathered at a tent camp set up outside the United Nations' offices in Chacao -- an upscale municipality in metropolitan Caracas and opposition stronghold. Tear gas, rubber bullets, and Chavista thugs on motorcycles had not yet made an appearance as of this past weekend.   

This has been a peaceful protest -- a headline-grabbing bit of political theater that started last Monday, March 31, and coincided with parallel protests outside the embassies of Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua. Oil barrels were lined up outside each embassy as students carried protest signs and unfurled banners.

Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador and Nicaragua, like 18 other left-leaning countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, have remained silent over Venezuela's brutal crackdown against massive anti-government protests that have raged for nearly two months -- leaving at least 37 people dead and hundreds injured. Most were students. Hugo Chávez, a firebrand socialist, used sweetheart oil deals to make friends and build anti-American alliances soon after becoming president in 1999.

The students are demanding a formal inquiry into Venezuela's rights abuses by the Organization of American States, and they were protesting the shameful meeting recently held at the OAS's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where Venezuelan opposition lawmaker María Corina Machado got a cold shoulder from most OAS members. They had no interest in hearing her discuss Venezuela's abuses even though they have been condemned by rights groups.

The OAS's mission includes promoting peace and democracy; yet its members argued for hours about whether Machado, a 46-year-old engineer, should or should not be allowed to speak. Coming to her defense, Panama eventually made her a temporary part of its delegation -- a procedural maneuver it hoped would allowed her to discuss Venezuela's abuses in a formal and public session. But Venezuela's left-leaning allies ultimately prevailed, voting only to hear her during a private session reserved for ad hoc matters. The vote was 22 to 11.

Keeping the session private was unusual for an organization claiming to support transparency; whose charter allows for sanctioning rights abusers within its ranks. Yet Venezuela's OAS member Carmen Luisa Velasquez defended the closed session and, according to The Wall Street Journal, provoked loud laughter when explaining to audience members:  "With total transparency: in privacy."

It was an Orwellian remark, the sort of language you might expect in a communist state like Cuba, where language is turned on its head to serve a corrupt state. Machado said as much, blaming the behavior of the OAS on the influence of Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro and Cuba. Under Maduro -- a former bus driver and union leader -- Cuba has gained an even bigger role in Venezuela than it had during Hugo Chávez's days, say many observers. Chávez died of cancer a year ago.

"They are afraid of the truth," Machado told reporters after the OAS meeting. "They don't want the truth to come out about the massive repression taking place in Venezuela. They don't want it to be known in the world and in our America."

Machado is hardly alone in speaking out against Cuba. In recent months, its growing influence in Venezuela has provoked anti-Cuban protest marches; anti-Cuban graffiti ("Cuba Out!); and Cuba has been a frequent topic on social media. Venezuela's twitter users -- when not sometimes blocked by Venezuela's Internet censors -- have buzzed with accounts of Cuban goons and military equipment playing a part in the brutal crack-down of the student-led protest movement. Cuba receives an estimated 110,000 barrels a day of Venezuela in exchange for various technical support, including the use of Cuban doctors in medical clinics set up in low-income areas. Cuba has long regarded Venezuela as a prize, having sponsored guerrilla insurgencies there in the 1960s. Recently, El Nuevo Herald, sister paper of The Miami Herald, documented the extensive role that Cuba's security forces are playing in Venezuela, based on interviews with ex-intelligence agents in Venezuela.

The Cubanization of Venezuela is not only reflected in the repression which the OAS doesn't want to hear about, but in the Maduro administration's harassment and marginalization of opposition leaders -- a strategy right out of the Castro brothers' playbooks. After addressing the OAS, for instance, Machado was called a traitor by some Venezuelans lawmakers. The leader of Venezuela's congress, Diosdado Cabello, even said her OAS appearance had violated the constitution; and so she had lost her seat in the legislature and was no longer immune from being prosecuted for allegedly provoking violent protests.

And earlier this week, security agents arrested one opposition mayor, and another was sentenced to ten months in prison. Both were accused of inciting rebellion by having failed to dismantle street barricades set up by anti-government protesters. This follows last month's arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López, a former mayor, for allegedly inciting protesters; or what President Maduro claimed was a call to murder, arson, and terrorism -- charges Amnesty International called a "politically motivated attempt to silence dissent. "To this day, no evidence of any kind has been presented," López wrote in an Op-Ed in The New York Times.

Machado, for her part, is no stranger to Chavista thuggishness. Last April, Chavista lawmakers attacked her in congress and broke her nose.

OAS members who supported Panama's effort to give Machado's a public hearing were: Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, United States, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Paraguay, and Perú. Among those opposing Panama's effort: Brazil, Nicaragua, Uruguay, El Salvador, Argentina, Venezuela, Bolivia and the Caribbean island-states minus Barbados, which abstained.

The Obama administration has spoken out against Venezuela's rights abuses, but it has yet to impose sanctions or take other actions. While the OAS meeting was discouraging for U.S. interests and democracy supporters, it did have an upside, as pointed out by Venezuela analyst Francisco Toro at Caracas Chronicles. "Nearly twice as many people live in the eleven countries that voted against the Maduro regime than in countries that voted with it. Out of the 17 Spanish speaking countries in OAS, 9 voted against the Maduro regime, just 8 for it." 

Machado reportedly took this video with her to explain what has been happening in Venezuela:

March 24, 2014

El Salvador's Dance with the Devil

Is El Salvador another Venezuela in the making? 


 Originally published at FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

Some leftists have smartened up. Guerrilla insurgencies are passé for them. So are AK-47s from Cuba or the Soviet bloc or China.

They saw an easier way to seize power; and so they got shaves, put on suites, and ran for office claiming to be left-leaning pragmatists. But after their election wins, they took advantage of a polarized citizenry and weak institutions to tear the system apart – more or less legally – from inside out.

The stealth approach worked well for Hugo Chávez in Venezuela where Cuban agents and goons are now pitching in to put down anti-government protesters fed up with Venezuela’s “21st Century Socialism.” During his first election campaign, Chavez denied he was a socialist and portrayed himself as a moderate despite having led an aborted coup against a democratic government.

Now, El Salvador seems poised to follow that same path after a former Marxist guerrilla leader – 69-year-old Salvador Sánchez Cerén – was elected president by a razor-thin margin and amid allegations of voting irregularities, which included claims that gang members were recruited to intimidate voters who opposed him. Sánchez Cerén had been El Salvador’s vice president — a hardliner in the ruling Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) party, named after a legendary Salvadorian rebel leader, Farabundo Martí, from the 1930s.

Sánchez Cerén had an uneasy relationship with President Mauricio Funes, a 54-year-old former television reporter who had never been a guerrilla but identified with the left.
Five years ago, the two teamed up in a union of political convenience that drew voters from across the political spectrum – and they won. Their election victory ended nearly two decades of conservative rule by the center-right National Republican Alliance (Arena). But President Funes’s political strategy was a pact with the devil. During his 5-year-term, his relationship with Sánchez Cerén and other FMLN hard-liners become increasingly strained, according to political observers.

Arena has yet to accept the outcome. But barring unexpected developments, Sánchez Cerén will take office on June 1. He will be the first guerrilla leader to govern the Central American country, where an atrocity-filled civil war raged nearly 13 years, killing at least 75,000 people and sending tens of thousands of refugees to the U.S. A peace accord was signed in 1992 between the military-led government and leftist groups that had fought under the FMLN umbrella. They were subsequently absorbed into the FMLN political party.
Venezuela’s turmoil overshadowed El Salvador’s bitterly contested election; for 50 percent of 

Salvadorians deeply fear the ideological left. They doubted Sánchez Cerén was a pragmatist who would work with opposition leaders and uphold El Salvador’s constitution. They had good reasons to be afraid: Sánchez Cerén has a long history as a Marxist ideologue. What’s more, he had a hand in murder and kidnappings during El Salvador’s horrific civil war – a dark past mentioned in a secret U.S. diplomatic cable made public by WikiLeaks. His “commitment to law and order cannot be easily assumed,” observed the missive for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dated September 30, 2009, and signed by Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Blau.

Sánchez Cerén, an admirer of Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian revolution, received 50.11% of the vote compared with 49.89% for Norman Quijano of Arena. Quijano was a former mayor of San Salvador, the nation’s capital.

A mere 6,364 votes carried Sánchez Cerén to victory in a run-off election on March 9. Some 3 million ballots were cast in the country of 6.2 million people.

Amid allegations of voter fraud, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal did a partial recount and, four days later, declared Sánchez Cerén the winner. Arena supporters have reason to be suspicious of the tribunal’s decision, because as some political analysts pointed out, most of its members have ties to the FMLN. Quijano hinted that the military might intervene, but military leaders said they were keeping out of the bitterly contested election.

Sánchez Cerén grew up in a working-class family — the ninth of 12 children whom his parents struggled to support. Five years ago, his campaign for the vice presidency was overshadowed by Funes’s campaign, but his entrance into the political arena did attract the attention of Washington and the U.S. Embassy in El Salvador. Embassy officials seemed skeptical that Sánchez Cerén had indeed traded the bullet for the ballot. They wondered if he remained a Marxist ideologue who was merely echoing the talking points of FMLN’s more moderate presidential candidate.

“We are struck by the irony of Sánchez Cerén commenting on the need for tolerance at the end of a week where media featured his having ordered summary executions of accused infiltrators during the civil war,” observed a confidential diplomatic cable dated September 26, 2008, and signed by then-U.S. Ambassador Charles L. Glazer. “It is still an open question whether he or Funes calls the FMLN shots.” The cable’s title: “FMLN VP Candidate Sánchez Cerén: Hard-liner’s Soft Sell.” It was sent to then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, among others.

Last week, after the electoral tribune ruled that Sánchez Cerén had won fair and square, the president-elect declared: “We have the people’s sovereign mandate; starting June 1 we will govern for five more years. We are ready for a dialogue to build El Salvador.”

But Diario Latino, a Salvadorian newspaper, summed up the fears of 50 percent of the population with an editorial stating the obvious: Sánchez Cerén had dedicated much of his life to teaching and defending “Marxist-Leninist principles” and thus could be counted on to take El Salvador toward socialism.
Sánchez Cerén, for his part, provided the first indication of where he was heading when naming his transition team – six former guerillas. At least two were mentioned in U.S. diplomatic cables for their unsavory pasts as guerrilla fighters: José Luis Merino was involved in arms trafficking and Manuel Melgar in murder.
Funes was unable to run for reelection because El Salvador limits presidents to 5-year terms. But he had left El Salvador poised for growth.

“The last government has prepared the ground work in many ways for private investment to take off. It’s not for a lack of policy, the issue is political,” said Joydeep Mukherji, a managing director for Standard & Poor’s during a conference call with Bloomberg News.
Even so, Sánchez Cerén will lead a country with one of the world’s worst murder rates caused by violent gangs. The government has negotiated a truce with them but has yet to rein them in; they control neighborhoods and extort money from residents and businesses. About 35 percent of the population remains in poverty.

If Sánchez Cerén lives up to his reputation, expect to see El Salvador descend into Venezuela-style political chaos and economic decline, and for another wave of Salvadorian refugees to flee to America. President Funes must be regretting his pact with the devil right about now.

March 11, 2014

Honoring a Venezuelan Tyrant Amid Bloody Protests

Latin leftist and Hollywood elites turn blind eye to Venezuela's anti-government protests and mounting death toll

Originally published at FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

      Massive and bloody anti-government protests have been roiling Venezuela for more than a month – provoked by an out-of-control murder rate, food shortages, and myriad instances of inept governance. But that didn't stop a rogues gallery of Latin leftists, including Cuban President Raul Castro, from turning up in Caracas to honor the late Hugo Chávez on the first anniversary of the Venezuelan leader's death.
     Security forces and pro-government militias have responded with a vengeance against the protesters, leaving at least 21 dead and hundreds injured. Most were students.
     The tear gas, rubber bullets and Chavista thugs on motorcycles, however, were out of sight and mind for Castro and fellow leftists, including Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Nicaraguan counterpart Daniel Ortega, among others. Like Castro, they enjoyed Chávez's oil largess over the years. Chávez had promoted himself as the savior of Venezuela's poor yet gave away billions of dollars of their oil wealth as a way to expand his influence and build alliances against the United States. The firebrand socialist, famous for his colorful anti-American broadsides, died a year ago of cancer, on March 5th, at age 58.
        A couple of Hollywood heavy weights – director Oliver Stone and actor Danny Glover – lent their celebrity to Wednesday's ceremonies that included a military parade and civic events. Glover and Stone considered Chávez a friend and ideological soul-mate.
        Chávez's hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro – a 51-year-old former bus driver and union leader – led the ceremonies at “El Comandante's" sacred tomb – situated in a former military museum in Caracas that had served as the command center for a disorganized and bloody coup attempt that Lt. Colonel Hugo Chávez led on February 4, 1992, against a democratic government.
        "Hugo Chávez was, without a doubt, the great leader who brought democracy. Never in history has there been a leader who so authentically loved the people of this country," Maduro told cheering Chávez loyalists. The ceremony featured goose-steeping soldiers, columns of tanks, and low-flying Russian Sukhoi jets.
        A lavish spectacle, it came amid the economic and social chaos produced by what Chávez called “21st Century Socialism," and the bread-and-circuses populism is being deepened by Maduro in the oil-rich yet impoverished South American nation. Venezuela has long been a prize for Cuba, which sponsored leftist insurgences there in the 1960s. Now, socialist Venezuela has come to look more and more like Cuba, where basic goods also are scarce.
        Ironically, Chávez had portrayed himself during his first presidential campaign as a moderate seeking a “third way” between capitalism and socialism. Claiming he'd traded the bullet for the ballet, he pledged to reverse declining living standards and root out Venezuela's rampant corruption. But months after his landslide election victory, he did an about face, praising Cuba's communism and forming a close friendship with Fidel Castro. Soon he was forming anti-American alliances with Middle Eastern strongmen such as Iraq's Saddam Hussein and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. He nationalized large swaths of the economy in Venezuela; or to be precise: the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Early into his first term, Chávez insisted on the name change as he pushed through a rewritten constitution in a Congress packed with his loyalists.
        As for Venezuela's corruption, Chávez took it to new heights by allowing for the emergence of a new social class; what a Venezuelan journalist famously called the “Boliburguesía” -- a portmanteau of the word's Bolivarian and bourgeoisie. As has been reported often over the years, in print and broadcast media, they became rich overnight thanks to sweetheart contacts, cronyism, and corruption.
        Glover, however, spoke only of Chávez as a man of the people to enthusiastic applause from Chávez loyalists. “His memory lives with us through the work that you do as citizens of this great nation,” he said.
        Stone didn't attend but in an interview with a local news outlet talked wistfully of his departed friend Hugo. “I miss Chávez, miss his spirit and presence,” he said. Stone allowed his documentary film, “My Amigo Hugo,” to premier on Venezuela television. (The government required all television stations, both state-owned and private, to broadcast it.)


      Social media, for its part, has helped organize the protests and shown the world the brutal handiwork of Venezuela's security forces. Twitter's SOSVenezuela has buzzed with photos claiming to show Cuban troops and military aircraft in Venezuela. Opposition protesters are convinced that Cubans are participating in the repressive crack-down against students. Over the years, Chávez invited many Cuban security agents and advisers into the country to help solidify his socialist rule.
        Bread and circuses populism has a long history in Venezuela, as does statism and authoritarianism. But Chávez took these things to new heights. Now after 11 years of Chávez, and one year of Maduro who is doubling down on Chávez's policies, Venezuela is sliding toward basket case status. It has one of the world's worst murder rates. Shortages of basic goods -- including milk, medicines, and toilet paper – are common due to currency exchange and price controls that have made it unprofitable for business to import goods. And things are bound to get worse after recent government edicts requiring retailers and business to offer government-set “fair prices.” “Good Morning, Communism!” declared the respected newsletter VenEcomony after analyzing the impact of Maduro's recent “economic war” against supposedly bourgeoisie retailers and businessmen. Maduro has called the opposition “fascists” and dupes of “Yankee imperialists.”
        Venezuela has become a polarized country divided into two ideological camps, thanks mainly to class-warrior Chávezm who repeatedly told poor Venezuelans that they were  poor because others were rich. And last month, opposition leader Leopoldo López, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated politician and former mayor, was sent to jail on trumped up charges, including murder and inciting rioters, for having lent his support to the ongoing street protests.
        “HE WHO tires, loses”: that was the slogan printed on a T-shirt worn by López when he was arrested among a sea of supporters. To Maduro's outrage, López had urged protesters to continue taking their grievances to the streets with peaceful protests; it's the only option they have left against an authoritarian government. Unarmed student demonstrators have been using two valuable weapons: twitter (#SOSVenezuea) and YouTube. Powerful videos like this have gone viral.
        In last April's presidential election, Maduro prevailed over opposition leader Henrique Capriles, a state governor and former mayor, by a razor-thing 50.6 percent of the vote. Protesters rightly believe that Capriles ought to be leading the country in light of Chávez and Maduro's demagoguery and populism on top of illegal campaign spending and threats against state employees who supported opposition candidates.
        Students come mainly from the middle-class and have been the backbone of the nationwide protest movement. It started in early February in San Cristóbal, a college town in the Andean mountains of 650,000, following the sexual assault of a female student. Initially, the protests were provoked by out-of-control crime. But as they spread to every major city in Venezuela, students added additional grievances to their manifesto – corruption, electrical blackouts, and other quality-of-life issues. Here and there, there have been reports in social media of the protests spreading to working-class areas that have been traditional Chávez strongholds.
        But the hope of pulling off a Ukrainian -style revolution seems remote. The military is with Maduro, by all accounts. The students and other protesters are a minority; and so far their rage has been vented mainly against the symptoms of bread and circuses socialism – not against the system itself; and that system is without a doubt corrupt. It revolves in part around the popular belief, especially among the poor majority, that Venezuelans ought to be rich and entitled by dint of their oil wealth -- an impossibility in Venezuela today. It's a sirens song – the paradox of plenty, as some call it – that keeps free-market policies at bay, keeps power concentrated in the hands of a few, and lends itself to a mentality that blames others. In this culture, anti-Americanism flourishes. Free-market policies and investor-friendly laws, on the other hand, would create wealth – far more than could be pumped out of the ground.
        The prophetic warning of Juan Pablo Pérez Alfonzo, a Venezuelan intellectual who was instrumental in founding OPEC, is often cited and worth quoting in respect to Venezuela's long decline and current crisis. “Ten years from now, twenty years from now, you will see: oil will bring us ruin… Oil is the Devil's excrement.”


February 11, 2014

The Kennedy-Chavez Oil Subversion Campaign Lives On

Still whitewashing the grim realities of Venezuela's '21st Century Socialism' 



Originally published at The American Thinker and FrontPage Magazine

By David Paulin

Venezuela’s economy is on life support, yet its pretensions of humbling the United States persist. This is underscored by its plans to continue Hugo Chávez’s showcase anti-American propaganda program  – giving away free home-heating oil to poor Americans this winter, just like it has done for the past nine years. As usual, former U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy II is facilitating and cheering on what amounts to an anti-American program by the oil-rich yet impoverished South American nation.

There had been much speculation about whether Venezuela would continue, amid its deepening economic woes, to use oil largess to promote its leftist ideology abroad, as the late President Chávez had done. But CITGO Petroleum Corporation, the Houston-based arm of Venezuela’s state oil company, confirmed on Wednesday that it will indeed provide free home-heating oil to poor Americans, those who supposedly can’t afford heating oil.

Leftist firebrand Chávez, who died last March of cancer, launched the program in 2005. Since then, CITGO claims that more than 235 million gallons of home-heating oil have been distributed to more than 1.8 million low-income Americans. It says it has assisted families, homeless shelters, and native American tribes in 25 states and District of Columbia. Naturally, the blue states of the Northeast are major recipients given the wide use of home-heating oil there.

Chávez made anti-Americanism a cornerstone of his foreign policy. He devised sweetheart oil deals with like-minded nations to spread his leftist ideology — essentially using oil as a political weapon. His hand-picked successor Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver and union leader, is showing yet again that he is determined to follow in Chávez footsteps.

Interestingly, CITGO’s announcement comes as a U.S. judge in South Texas fined CITGO more than $2 million for felony violations of the U.S. Clean Air Act committed by its Corpus Christi refinery. Pollution from the facility was blamed for sickening dozens of nearby residents. Presumably, they were low-income Americans, people who could only afford to live near a smelly oil refinery and who, it would seem, lacked the propaganda value of poor Americans elsewhere, especially in the Northeast’s blue states.

“We have committed to this program once again this year because we see it as a humanitarian effort that helps our most vulnerable neighbors stay warm during one of the coldest winters in history,” Nelson P. Martinez, President and CEO of CITGO Petroleum Corporation, announced in his company’s news release. “We can’t relieve the need for everyone but this is our humble contribution to share the responsibility of improving the quality of life in our communities by using the strength of our resources to help those in need. This is one of the most important values we share with our shareholder, Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA), the national oil company of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” he added.

Kennedy, for his part, is again playing the role of useful Democratic idiot in Venezuela’s anti-American oil largess. A non-profit he created in 1979, Citizens Energy Corporation, has gladly partnered with CITGO to again deliver the fuel.

“The poor are facing a terrible hardship this winter,” said Kennedy, as quoted in CITGO’s news release. “Federal fuel assistance has dropped 40 percent over the last few years while heating oil prices have jumped by a third. With the kind of cold we’ve experienced this winter, the federal aid just doesn’t go as far. It’s a triple whammy on the poor. That’s why the generosity of CITGO Petroleum and the people of Venezuela is so important – it helps fill the fuel gap for the most vulnerable among us.”

Did Kennedy clear his comments about scaled-back federal fuel assistance with the Obama administration? Or perhaps the cutbacks to which he refers were made because the Obama administration was counting on Venezuela’s anti-American government to keep providing poor Americans (presumably Democratic voters) with free home-heating oil. And when referring to the generosity of Venezuela’s people, was Kennedy aware that no referendum was ever held among Venezuela’s voters as to whether their oil patrimony should be given away to further the ideological ambitions of their political leaders?  Under Chávez, Venezuela gave away billions of dollars of its oil patrimony in sweetheart oil deals with Cuba, the Caribbean, and left-leaning countries in South America. It’s all apart of Venezuela’s effort to spread its leftist ideology and counter American hegemony, which it sees as the cause of the world’s suffering.

President Maduro has been deepening Chávez’s socialism as he grapples with worsening food shortages, falling oil prices, and annual inflation topping 50%  – the region’s highest. Venezuela is quite literally broke. It can’t afford to give away its oil, yet it continues to do so because Maduro is dedicated first and foremost to his leftist ideology — not the welfare or ordinary Venezuelans.

Has any of this occurred to Joseph P. Kennedy and like-minded Democrats? The eagerness with which they embrace Venezuela’s oil largess suggest one of three things. They are useful idiots, fellow travelers – or both.

January 18, 2014

Can a Beauty Queen's Murder Bring Down Socialism?

How the murder of a former Miss Venezuela is threatening the post-Chavez regime.

By David Paulin

Originally published at The American Thinker  blog and FrontPage Magazine

Beauty queens are revered in Venezuela, none more so than those crowned “Miss Venezuela.” So when a beloved former “Miss” named Mónica Spear and her ex-husband were murdered by highway bandits, the crime sparked national outrage — touching off street protests, non-stop media coverage, and an ongoing national conversation about the socialist government’s failure to stop a runaway murder epidemic. 

Now, outrage over the murders is prompting many Venezuelans to confront the contradictions of Venezuela-style socialism. One of the biggest ironies: violent crime has exploded since President Hugo Chávez, a firebrand leftist, took office 15 years ago. This has happened, moreover, as capitalism has increasingly been dismantled – supposedly replaced by more economic equality and “social justice” in the oil-rich yet impoverished South American nation.

Chávez, who died last March of cancer, coined the term “21st Century socialism.” He contended it would reverse corruption-riddled Venezuela’s long economic decline, as would his strategy of pursing anti-American alliances. But as fallout continues over the high-profile murders, many Venezuelans are becoming more cynical about President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist agenda as tens of thousands of Venezuelans are being murdered annually. Maduro, Chávez’s hand-picked successor, is grappling with food shortages, falling oil prices, and annual inflation topping 50%. He rules a politically polarized country where just over 50 percent of voters support his leftist agenda. A former bus driver and union leader, he possesses neither Chávez’s charisma nor mystical connection to Venezuela’s poor majority.

Spear, crowned “Miss Venezuela” in 2004, died in a hail of gunfire on a dark highway on Monday, January 6, with ex-husband Henry Thomas Berry, a 39-year-old British citizen who specialized in adventure tourism at a local travel agency. Their 5-year-old daughter suffered a leg wound.

Police said several bandits laid sharp objects on the road that flattened the car’s tires; other reports said the car was disabled after hitting a pothole — a common problem on poorly maintained roads. The couple locked themselves in their car as the bandits showed up, but to no avail: Six shots were fired as a tow-truck arrived. The couple’s ill-fated holiday in the spectacular mountains and plains of western Venezuela had been intended to give them a new start together.

With Spear and Berry’s murders, Venezuela’s skyrocketing murder rate suddenly has human faces – and President Maduro is on the defensive. He’d been focusing on deepening “21st Century socialism.” This included an “economic offensive” against the commercial class: from owners of supermarkets to electronics stores to car dealerships – all were being ordered to offer government-set “fair prices.” And before November’s make-or-break municipal elections, he’d won votes by taking bread-and-circuses populism to new heights, tacitly giving Christmas shoppers, as some observers saw it, a green light to loot electronics stores. “We’re doing this for the good of the nation,” he said. “Let nothing remain in stock!” A number of retailers were jailed — accused of speculating, hoarding, and unfair lending.

Now, sensing political trouble over Spear and Berry’s murders, Maduro is shifting his attention away from his “economic offensive.” He’s instead calling for an unprecedented anti-crime program, and he recently met with big-city mayors, governors, and administration officials to come up with a plan. Details remain sketchy. But hopefully, Maduro will focus on improving the nation’s often corrupt and inefficient police forces and criminal-justice system. In the past, he and Chávez had believed socialism would address what they believed were crime’s root causes: capitalism and class-conflict; poverty and economic inequality — and even violent American movies shown on Venezuelan television and movie theaters.

Venezuela suffered the world’s fourth highest murder rate in 2010 after Honduras, El Salvador, and Jamaica, according to United Nation’s statistics. Official Venezuelan crime statistics are non-existent: the government stopped providing them ten years ago. But sociologist Roberto Briceño León, president of the Venezuelan Observatory on Violence, a watchdog group, estimates that yearly homicides have increased 427% since Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1998, after campaigning on a platform to seek a “third way” between socialism and capitalism, and to reverse rampant corruption and declining living standards. “In 1998, we had 4,550 homicides in the country, but we closed the past year with 24,000,” Briceño León recently told Globovision, a Caracas television channel, in a segment about the Spear and Berry murders. To put those grim murder numbers into perspective: war-torn Iraq’s population is comparable in size to Venezuela’s, yet it suffered 7,800 killings in 2013 — about one third of Venezuela’s homicides. “A third of our murders, and yet the international community says absolutely nothing about the violence in Venezuela. Shame on them,” wrote Juan Cristobal Nagel, an opposition blogger at Caracas Chronicles.

To outraged Venezuelans, the couple’s murders were especially tragic because their lives were caught up with the rise and fall of the Venezuelan dream – an ideal that existed from the 1970s to mid-80s, the era of “Saudi Venezuela” when oil prices were soaring. Berry’s British parents had immigrated to Venezuela more than 40 years ago, when Caracas was a charming place known as the “city of red roofs.” His father was a mathematics professor at Simón Bolívar University.

Spear, a fifth runner-up in the Miss Universe pageant, attended junior college in Florida before graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2004.  "She was a powerhouse. She really wanted to be an actress," said one of her acting teachers, John DiDonna.  In an interview with the Orlando Sentinel,  DiDonna recalled having Spear confront a student portraying the devil. "She just went off... she had an incredible argument with Satan right in the classroom. She was just fabulous."

The devil, of course, is capable of wearing many attractive disguises. Socialism is one of them.

Spear went onto because a successful soap-opera actress for the Spanish-language Telemundo network. In 2011, she had moved to Florida, one of more than 500,000 Venezuelan now living aboard to escape Venezuela-style socialism. Many are members of the business and professional classes, people whom class-warrior Chávez saw as part the problems ailing Venezuela.

Police investigating Spear and Berry’s murders quickly rounded up nine suspects who were part of a gang that preyed on motorists; they were carrying credit cards and a digital camera that belonged to the couple. It was splendid police work. But to most Venezuelans it underscored that their country, even under “21st Century socialism,” has two standards of justice: one for the well-connected and famous, and the other for ordinary Venezuelans, observed Briceño León, the sociologist. Indeed, most Venezuelans doubt that police would have expended such an effort for ordinary Venezuelans, he explained. “People can commit crimes without any consequences,” sociologist Luis Cedeño, director of civic group Active Peace, told Globovision.

Whatever crime-reduction plan President Maduro implements will face a major problem: Venezuela is broke. Draconian currency exchange and price controls have left many supermarket shelves empty; even toilet party is in short supply. Attracting significant foreign investment is not an option — not after Chávez nationalized large swaths of the economy. Recently, Bloomberg News reported that Venezuela’s “economic distress is so acute that the central bank stopped releasing regular statistics for the first time ever, threatening to increase borrowing costs further as the nation faces $10 billion of financing needs.” Benjamin Wang, a money manager at PineBridge Investments LLC, was quoted as saying: “There’s no transparent data to measure the risk.”

As the fallout over the death of a beauty queen plays out, cynicism is likely to grow toward Venezuela-style socialism. So will murder, corruption, and economic decline. How ironic that a beauty queen’s death may serve as a catalyst for positive change that opposition candidates have been unable to achieve by defeating Hugo Chávez or Nicolás Maduro at the polls.

Venezuela rocked by murder of soap opera star and former 'Miss Venezuela'

By David Paulin

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

Socialism has yet to bring "social justice" to Venezuelans -- only empty store shelves, roaring inflation, and one of the world's worst murder epidemics. Now, the chaos has a human face -- a former beauty queen named Mónica Spear who was murdered Monday night by roadside bandits. Beauty queens are revered in Venezuela, and Spear's murder has caused a public uproar -- setting off street protests and putting Nicolás Maduro's socialist government in an uncomfortable spotlight in politically polarized Venezuela.

Spear, crowed a "Miss Venezuela" in 2004, died in a hail of bullets along with her ex-husband, Thomas Henry Berry, a 39-year-old British citizen. Their 5-year-old daughter suffered a leg wound.

Police said several bandits apparently laid sharp objects on the road that flattened the car's tires. When the couple locked their car, the bandits started shooting as a tow truck arrived. One news report said the couple's holiday outing in the mountains and plains of western Venezuela was intended to give them a new start together.

A popular soap-opera actress for the Telemundo network, Spear, 29 years old, was visiting Venezuela for the holidays. In 2011 she had moved to Florida, joining tens of thousands of other Venezuelan expatriates who'd fled Venezuela during the socialist rule of Hugo Chávez, who died last March of cancer.

Nearly 25,000 Venezuelans were murdered last year, making the oil-rich but impoverished South American nation one of the world's most violent. Most of the victims are poor.

"This is a blow to all of us," President Maduro said on state television, while vowing to pursue the killers with "an iron hand." Strangely, Maduro later opined that hired killers might have targeted Spear and her family. But he cited no evidence to support that claim, which seemed calculated to deflect public outrage. In the past, Maduro has often blamed oligarchs, businessmen, and Yankee imperialist for Venezuela's economic mess.

Amid street protests over Spear's death on Wednesday, Maduro held a security meeting in Caracas with the country's governors and mayors of major cities.

When Hugo Chávez took office in 1999, Venezuela had one of the region's fastest growing murder rates, but since then the murder rate has soared. Now Venezuela is ranked by the United Nations as the world's fifth most violent country. There's an irony here, because under Chávez crime and violence "were viewed as the product of capitalism and poverty," Venezuela sociologist Roberto Briceño told The Washington Post. He attributed the crime wave "to a lack of basic law enforcement."

Spear attended junior college in Florida before graduating from the University of Central Florida in 2004. "She was a powerhouse. She really wanted to be an actress," said one of her acting teachers, John DiDonna.

Recalling an acting exercise involving Spear, DiDonna told the Orlando Sentinel that she was told to confront a student portraying the devil. "She just went off... she had an incredible argument with Satan right in the classroom. She was just fabulous."

The devil, of course, is capable of wearing many attractive disguises. Socialism is one of them.

New York Times Puts ‘Guns & Ammo’ Magazine in Crosshairs

By David Paulin

Originally published at The American Thinker blog and FrontPage Magazine

Guns & Ammo magazine has fallen into the liberal cross-hairs of The New York Times – the target of a bogus scandal the Gray Lady dished up as part of its anti-gun crusade.

“Banished for Questioning the Gospel of Guns.” So read the front-page headline calculated to shock the naïve and gullible. The article’s shocking revelation: Guns & Ammo has chummy relationships with advertisers and panders to its readers. That, of course, is how things work at all those specialty magazines that are chock-full of ads. Yet as the newspaper that helped elect Barack Obama sees things, there’s a nefarious conspiracy going on involving Guns & Ammo parent company InterMedia Outdoors and malevolent gun manufacturers — all of whom supposedly abhor free speech and will go to appalling lengths to advance an absolutist pro-gun agenda.

What sent The Times into its hand-waving frenzy was Guns & Ammo’s recent firing of long-time columnist Dick Metcalf, who had outraged advertisers and readers with a column titled “Let’s Talk Limits.” It argued that Second Amendment rights were not absolute. “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be,” Metcalf wrote. “Freedom of speech is regulated. You cannot falsely and deliberately shout, “Fire!” in a crowded theater.”

Personally, I find nothing over the top about this statement, and many readers here would probably agree. But that’s not how Guns & Ammo’s advertisers saw things. They wanted Metcalf out, as did many of Guns & Ammo’s 400,000 readers who “threatened to cancel their subscriptions” and even sent the magazine death threats, according to The Times’ article by reporter Ravi Somaiya. Political fallout over the controversy also caused Guns & Ammo’s editor, Jim Bequette, to announce that he’d speed up his retirement plans and bring his successor on board ahead of schedule.

Yes, it’s all very sad when talented and well-intentioned people lose their jobs due to politics – and one silly mistake. But there’s also nothing to prevent Metcalf and Bequette from going to work for another magazine, one that would perhaps be a better fit for them. Perhaps they could start up their own publication.

Yet as The Times sees things, the shake-up at Guns & Ammo suggests dark forces are thwarting reasonable discussions at gun magazines about Second Amendment issues and, more specifically, that Metcalf’s departure “sheds light on the close-knit world of gun journalism, where editors and reporters say there is little room for nuance in the debate over gun laws. Moderate voices that might broaden the discussion from within are silenced.” But wait a minute: Couldn’t you say something similar about the dearth of people with conservative political opinions in The Times’ newsroom?

How many of its reporters and editors are Republicans? Inquiring minds want to know.
Guns & Ammo, of course, operates just like other specialty magazines that depend on advertising dollars. “We take care of those who take care of us,” a publisher at one of the country’s most widely read aviation magazines used to tell his staff, according to a former boss of mine who, earlier in his career, had been one of that magazine’s senior editors. He recalled how the editor-in-chief at the time, a well-known aviation journalist and author, used to write scathing inter-office memos about new airplanes he’d flown, and hated — yet none of those negative critiques ever made it into his published articles, because this would risk losing advertising dollars. I heard these revelations while working as an associate editor at a “Consumer Reports”-type aviation for light-plane pilots: No ads allowed! And without ads, we were free to say whatever passed muster with the magazine’s libel lawyer. The Times, incidentally, described Metcalf, a former history teacher at Yale and Cornell, as ”one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists.” Yet one example of a gun review by Metcalf on

InterMedia Outdoors’ television show has the feel of an informercial; certainly not the type of journalism that would past muster at The Times; and yet The Times essentially puts a halo over Metcalf’s head to support its anti-gun agenda.

None of this is to suggest, to be sure, that magazines like Guns & Ammo write dishonest product reviews; but those reviews will definitely not read quite the same way as they would if done by gun magazines with a no-advertising policy; and nor would Guns & Ammo and other well-managed publications do anything to antagonize readers. By the same token, The Times would be a far different newspaper, and perhaps a more profitable one, if it wasn’t an echo chamber for liberal reporters and editors.

That the agenda-driven Times singles out and vilifies Guns & Ammo for doing what other specialty magazine do is no surprise. Perhaps the Gray Lady’s editors need to ponder their own biases — and to recall a truism from A. J. Liebling, the legendary writer at The New Yorker who observed: “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”

Death of Phil Everly of 'Everly Brothers' recalls America's lost age of innocence

By David Paulin

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

Phil Everly and his older brother, Don, formed the Everly Brothers - a clean-cut musical duo that churned out some of America's most treasured pop songs. His death on Friday at age 74, in a hospital near his Southern California home, is getting prominent news coverage revolving around his life and rich contribution to America's musical heritage. But what cannot be emphasized enough is that the Everly Brothers' classic pop songs -- during the 1950s and early 60s -- are iconic expressions of a lost era of American innocence.

In one of the better articles about Phil Everly's passing, The New York Times explained

 The Everlys brought tradition, not rebellion, to their rock 'n' roll. Their pop songs reached teenagers with Appalachian harmonies rooted in gospel and bluegrass. Their first full-length album, "The Everly Brothers" in 1958, held their first hits, but the follow-up that same year, "Songs Our Daddy Taught Us," was a quiet collection of traditional and traditional-sounding songs.

My favorite song by the group was "Bye Bye Love," a blockbuster hit of 1957. This was the same year that President Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated for a second term....and Elvis Presley appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show for the third time, and was shown only from the waist up.

Conservatives admire the era for its social unity and values; liberals despise it for its social conformity and unresolved social problems. Both views have merit, (though my own feeling, like many who are reading this, is that there was far more to admire than despise about the 1950s). Other hits songs from the duo included "Wake Up Little Susie," "Cathy's Clown," "All I Have to Do Is Dream" and "When Will I Be Loved?"

Phil Everly is survived by his brother. As up-and-coming musicians, their most formative years were in Iowa, Indiana, and Tennessee.

In this YouTube clip of a 1950's television show, the young duo sings "Bye Bye Love." The brothers and audience project a wholesomeness that has all but vanished in much of America, though probably not in its vast interior; what liberals cynically call fly-over country -- a place that nevertheless was the wellspring from which the Everly brothers and their legendary music emerged, with all its purity and innocence.

December 30, 2013

Six Cubans perish at sea as Castro brothers gloat over Obama's handshake

By David Paulin

Originally pulished at The American Thinker and Front Page Magazine

President Obama gave the Castro brothers a when shaking hands with counterpart Raul at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. But that propaganda victory for the communist tyranny meant little to six ordinary Cubans who, on Christmas Eve, were declared lost at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The Cubans — three men and three women — were no doubt aware of the handshake brouhaha when they departed the Dominican Republic on December 17 on an illegal boat trip to Puerto Rico, after alerting relatives in the United States about their estimated arrival date. To them, Obama’s handshake wasn’t a gesture likely to improve their dead-end lives — not in a country designated by the United States as a state sponsor of terrorism and regularly condemned by human rights groups.

Relatives of the Cubans alerted the Coast Guard when their boat failed to arrive, thus setting off a four-day air search as two aircraft flew a total of 22 hours over 22,000 square nautical miles, but on Tuesday evening the search was called off. “While the fate of (these) people may never be known…our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones during this difficult time,” said Coast Guard Capt. Drew Pearson in a on Christmas Day.

The Cubans, whose names were not released, join untold others who have died at sea to fulfill their dreams of coming to America, a country that to them remains a beacon of freedom — even as President Obama bows to foreign leaders, shakes hands with tyrants, and apologizes for America’s supposed sins. The Castro regime has all but stamped out Christmas in Cuba, so it is especially tragic and sad that the Cubans who perished never saw Christmas in Puerto Rico, a holiday that would have been similar to what Cubans enjoyed before Castro’s communist revolution.

In an Op-Ed in The Washington Times, Republican Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen
“Shaking Raul Castro’s hand, while dismissed by some as only a handshake, not only emboldens the regime, but will not stop the atrocious acts against the Cuban people. Mr. Obama extended his hand to Raul Castro, even though the Castro brothers are unwilling to unclench their fist over the Cuban people.”
Those words are certainly not news to ordinary Cubans  — even if they fall on deaf ears in the Obama administration.

November 28, 2013

Texas DA who prosecuted Tom DeLay has mud on face again

In Travis County, legal sophistry and crackpot testimony sent two day-care owners to prison for 21 years 

Originally published at The American Thinker blog

By David Paulin

Ronnie Earle's problematic record as Travis County District Attorney is coming back to haunt him – yet again. Earle, a Democrat, made a name for himself with some cleaver legal sophistry: specifically, he convinced a gullible jury in liberal Travis County, Texas, that former Republican House Speaker Tom DeLay was guilty of “money laundering” related to his funneling of campaign contributions to Republican candidates. A Texas Appeals Court recently dismissed the charges, ruling DeLay had broken no laws. Delay had called the prosecution the criminalization of politics.

Now, another case overseen by Earle in the liberal enclave of Travis County has come back to haunt the flamboyant district attorney. It concerns the case of Fran and Dan Keller, former day-care owners in Austin whom prosecutors claimed had engaged in outrageous satanic rituals and sexual abuse with the children entrusted to their care. The married couple had always maintained their innocence. On Tuesday, Mrs. Keller, 63, was released after 21 years in prison when the case against her fell apart. Her husband Dan, who turns 72 on Friday, is expected to be released within days, said defense lawyer Keith Hampton. Both were serving 48 years sentences.

The case, like California's Martin preschool trial and others, was part of a national hysteria over alleged sexual abuse with Satanic overtones in the 1980s and early 1990s. Psychologists and therapists were subsequently criticized for having implanted the bizarre allegations into the minds of children.

“For those who believed in the prevalence of ritual abuse, the allegations were powerful proof that secret societies and dangerous cults — often protected by top politicians, business leaders and law officers — engaged in depraved attacks on children who could be dominated and indoctrinated through pain, humiliation and terror,” observed the Austin American-Statesman. In this sense, the arguments of prosecutors were not dissimilar from  left-wing conspiracy theories that have gained currency in recent years -- from crackpot storylines from Hollywood regarding the JFK assassination to claims that President George W. Bush dynamited the levies in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina in order to clear blacks out of the city.

The sensational trial must have been a rollicking good time for the publicity-hungry Ronnie Earle. As the Statesman explained:

The case began Aug. 15, 1991, when a 3-year-old girl told her mother that Dan Keller had hurt her. The mother and daughter were on their way to a scheduled appointment with the girl’s therapist, who drew out details that included Keller defecating on her head and sexually assaulting her with a pen. In the following weeks, two other children from the day care offered similar accusations. 
By the time of the Kellers’ six-day trial in November 1992, the list of atrocities had grown.
According to the children, the couple served blood-laced Kool-Aid and forced them to have videotaped sex with adults and other children. The Kellers, they said, sometimes wore white robes and lit candles before hurting them. 
The children also accused the Kellers of forcing them to watch or participate in the killing and dismemberment of cats, dogs and a crying baby. Bodies were unearthed in cemeteries and new holes dug to hide freshly killed animals and, once, an adult passer-by who was shot and dismembered with a chain saw. The children recalled several plane trips, including one to Mexico, where they were sexually abused by soldiers before returning to Austin in time to meet their parents at the day care.

As for physical evidence, there was damning testimony from Dr. Michael Mouw, an emergency room physician, who'd examined the 3-year-old girl on the night she'd first accused Dan Keller of sexual abuse. He “found two tears in the girl’s hymen consistent with sexual abuse and determined that the injuries were less than 24 hours old,” noted the Statesman. But during a hearing on the Kellers' appeal last August, Dr. Mouw said he'd changed his mind – all due to an epiphany he'd had while attending a medical seminar years after the trial. “Mouw said a slide presentation on 'normal' pediatric hymens included a photo that was identical to what he had observed in the girl,” the Statesman said.

“Sometimes it takes time to figure out what y'ou don’t know. I was mistaken,” the physician admitted.

Hampton, the defense lawer, told the Associated Press: "He testified extensively to his mistake and there is now no physical evidence that anything happened to these children."

Hampton also criticized the testimony of clinical psychologist Randy Noblitt, who he described as a crackpot and charlatan.

“A 21st century court ought to be able to recognize a 20th century witch-hunt and render justice accordingly,” Hampton argued in his appeal. He has vowed to work to completely exonerate the Kellers.

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg -- who helped to prosecute Tom DeLay and has vowed to pursue charges against him – issued a statement saying that the Kellers would be released because of Dr. Mouw's testimony.

"I agreed that there is a reasonable likelihood that his false testimony affected the judgment of the jury," said Lehmberg, who has recently been in the news due to a drunk-driven conviction for which she served jail time. "The Court of Criminal Appeals will review both cases. No further action or decisions on the case will be made until that review is finalized," she said.

The sensational turn-of-events comes on the heels of another miscarriage of justice in the area that sent Michael Morton to jail for 25 years for killing his wife. He was innocent, as DNA evidence revealed a number of months ago. Judge Ken Anderson in nearby Williamson County, who's prosecuted Morton as district attorney, recently gave up his law license and served a stint in jail – part of a plea bargain for having withheld evidence during the trial. Morton was subsequently exonerated, and DNA evidence linked another man to the murder of his wife and another woman, Debra Masters Baker.

Ronnie Earl has yet to make a public comment about the Kellers release, but the disgrace over this and the Tom DeLay prosecution will serve as a black mark on his career.