Monday, July 07, 2008

The Left and its heroes

People's heroes are always illuminating. There was that Tory whose hero was Ian Smith for instance. On the left of politics there has always been a trend that worshipped Fidel Castro - Harriet Harman may make an unlikely Pasionara but she for one identified the bearded old tyrant as a hero.
But while the gloss has rather come off the Cuban revolution over the last decade or so, a new hero has arisen among the left - Hugo Chavez. I'm not proposing to get into an argument here about whether or not Chavez is a democrat or not - there's enough evidence on either side - but what is barely in question is that Chavez has enough on his charge sheet to warrant caution before beatification.
Not least among these is the evidence that has been building up that Chavez has been covertly aiding the FARC terrorists in Colombia. Part of this was declamatory and rhetorical - on March 2 after the killing of a senior FARC leader Raul Reyes by the Colombian military, Chavez denounced the killing as a cowardly assassination and praised Reyes, who had 57 acts of homicide on his warrant as a good revolutionary. On January 11 he urged Europeans and others to remove the FARC from the ranks of international terrorist organizations. The FARC, Chavez announced, was a genuine army, occupying territory and fighting for the Bolivarian cause.
Evidence of more material help has come after the recovery of a laptop computer from FARC personnel - indeed from the dead Raul Reyes. Documents on the laptop, according to Bogota, show that FARC was in receipt of significant funds from the Chavez Government, as well as arms. Interpol reviewed the laptop and found that it had not been tampered with by the Colombian Government.
So, there's a potted case for the prosecution. Lining up for the defence is Johann Hari in the Independent. In reply to this allegation Hari has the following:
On 1 March, the Colombian government invaded Ecuador and blew up a Farc training camp. A few hours later, it announced it had found a pristine laptop in the rubble, and had already rummaged through the 39.5 million pages of Microsoft Word documents it contained to find cast-iron "proof" that Chavez was backing the Farc. Ingrid's sister, Astrid Betancourt, says it is plainly fake. The camp had been totally burned to pieces and the computers had clearly, she says, been "in the hands of the Colombian government for a very long time". Far from fuelling the guerrillas, Chavez has repeatedly pleaded with the Farc to disarm. He managed to negotiate the release of two high-profile hostages – hence Betancourt's swift thanks. He said: "The time of guns has passed. Guerilla warfare is history."
Well, here's a picture of the camp where the laptop was found. Finding a laptop there would not be the impossibility that Hari paints it, and anyway, unless Hari is impugning Interpol, there is no suggestion that the laptop was other than genuine. And I'd like a little more evidence for Astrid Betancourt's credentials as a forensic auditor before I take it entirely on trust. And Chavez's rhetoric on FARC, as we have seen, is a lot less clear-cut than Hari portrays as well.
There's a central accusation in Hari's piece: that Chavez is a modern saint and that we have been lied to by eeevil oil companies (and presumably George Bush, though he unaccountably fails to receive a mention). To countermand the evidence given above that Chavez really is a supporter of the FARC he gives us the testimony of Astrid Betancourt. Anything else?
As Ingrid Betancourt emerged after six-and-a-half years – sunken and shrivelled but radiant with courage – one of the first people she thanked was Hugo Chavez. What? If you follow the news coverage, you have been told that the Venezuelan President supports the Farc thugs who have been holding her hostage. He paid them $300m to keep killing and to buy uranium for a dirty bomb, in a rare break from dismantling democracy at home and dealing drugs. So how can this moment of dissonance be explained?
Yes: you have been lied to – about one of the most exciting and original experiments in economic redistribution and direct democracy anywhere on earth. And the reason is crude: crude oil. The ability of democracy and freedom to spread to poor countries may depend on whether we can unscramble these propaganda fictions.
So, we also have the thanks of Ingrid Betancourt to consider. Except that we don't really. There's a reason that Hari doesn't quote Ingrid Betancourt - her thanks to Ecuador and Venezuela came with the warning that they respect Colombian democracy, words that the Venezuelan media (laughably described by Hari as in total opposition to Chavez) found difficult:
Commentators on Venezuela's openly pro-Chavez state television bristled at her words and accused her trying to use the worldwide fame her captivity has generated to promote Mr. Uribe's politics at the expense of Mr. Chavez's leftist movement.
So, yes. You have been lied to. But by Johann Hari rather than by a faceless, unidentified Them.

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