Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
20 July 2007

Thabo Mbeki = George W. Bush?

In idle moments I have often wondered whether – despite the obvious ideological differences – there are not perhaps remarkable similarities between President’s George W. Bush and Thabo Mbeki. Both have a messianic streak and both seem to have a tendency to ignore difficulties that do not fit into their ideologically tinted world view. Both also seem incapable of admitting a problem or a mistake, perhaps because they think they alone have a grip on the “Truth”.

President Mbeki for a long time tried to get people to rethink the link between HIV and AIDS because it was untenable for him to admit that many South Africans would die because they had sex with lots of people (as if that in and of itself was a bad thing). Bush is still pretending things are going well in Iraq, which makes one fear for his sanity, really.

I was struck again by the possible similarities, reading Paul Krugman’s column (subscription needed) in the New York Times this morning. Money quote:

I wrote about the Bush administration’s “infallibility complex,” its inability to admit mistakes or face up to real problems it didn’t want to deal with, in June 2002. Around the same time Ron Suskind, the investigative journalist, had a conversation with a senior Bush adviser who mocked the “reality-based community,” asserting that “when we act, we create our own reality.”

People who worried that the administration was living in a fantasy world used to be dismissed as victims of “Bush derangement syndrome,” liberals driven mad by Mr. Bush’s success. Now, however, it’s a syndrome that has spread even to former loyal Bushies.

Yet while Mr. Bush no longer has many true believers, he still has plenty of enablers — people who understand the folly of his actions, but refuse to do anything to stop him.

In South Africa, the media and commentators have not often focused on the enablers who have made it possible for Presidnet Mbeki to get away with his flirtation with Aids denialism, for example. Yes, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang have rightly been vilified, but what about all the other cabinet ministers – including Trevor Manual, darling of the chattering classes – who at the height of the Aids debate refused the answer the question of whether HIV caused Aids. We forgave him because he cut our taxes.

And do we hear enough about Mbeki’s advisers who clearly do not always confront him with the hard facts needed to make clear headed decisions? In a way we are all President Mbeki’s enablers because we vote for his party and we treat him with respect because he is our head of state.

For those of us who are white, it may be even more difficult not to show respect because given our racist history, showing disrespect to the country’s leader may easily be interpreted as showing disrespect towards all black people.

I am often torn between an impulse to show respect for my President and all the good things he has done, and shouting at the rooftops at the dangerously arrogant and denialist actions of my President who may well have contributed to the death of hundreds of thousands of South Africans from Aids related illness.

If one keeps quiet, does one not merely act as an enabler to a dangerous man? If one shouts and screams, does one not merely align oneself with the white whiners yearning for the return to apartheid?

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