ANYTHING BOYS CAN DO…
South Orange, N.J.
Fortunately, those who love The Dangerous Book for Boys despite its casual sexism will have a better girls’ alternative than the rather Victorian The Great Big Glorious Book for Girls [Katha Pollitt, “Subject to Debate,” July 9]. The true companion book is called The Daring Book for Girls, by Andrea Buchanan and Miriam Peskowitz (whom I represent) coming this fall, and it will be every bit as fun and adventurous as its predecessor. It may not counter the Anglo- imperial martial spirit of the boys’ book, but it will still do a lot to level the playing field.
When leftists assign motive for actions, they forget that boys forget to be political unless some Nation-nanny smacks them across the nose with it. Self-sacrificing white male patriotic heroism, exemplified this minute by the 100,000 all-volunteer servicemen in Iraq and Afghanistan, three-quarters of whom say they enlisted “because of 9/11,” is alive and very well, despite the feminist assault prevalent in education and left media. These heroes hate what the hate-America Nation types are broadcasting back home but are dutifully silent, until they get back. We are, no kidding, on a crusade, about the fifth according to my specialty in history. Believe your murderous Islamist soulmates when they say it daily.
VILLALOBOS IN THE NATION?
New York City
I write not so much to disagree with Joaquín Villalobos’s July 9 “Revolution in Venezuela?“–although I do–as to reveal Villalobos’s post-Salvadoran war trajectory, which is marked by values and actions I think The Nation neither shares nor wants to promote.
First, a clarification: Villalobos was not the “top commander and strategist of the leftist FMLN in El Salvador,” as his author bio states. He was the leader of the ERP, one of the five groups constituting the insurgency, but he at no time led the FMLN politically or militarily.
Villalobos has made several statements supporting the US invasion of Iraq. Another example of his turn to the right: a March 23, 2004, Nation article documented how the Colombian government used human rights rhetoric to cover up the paramilitary death squad activities, mass arrests, rape and other atrocities perpetrated by the Uribe administration; Villalobos stated in a May 16, 2004, interview in Uruguay’s La Republica, “In Latin America, Colombia is the first country that has applied a model in which human rights have been turned into a strategic advantage.” Villalobos served as a “conflict consultant” to the Uribe government. His critiques of the Latin American left and his conflict-consulting business appear to have taken off in synergistic ways.
Villalobos left El Salvador following the political and personal defeats he suffered in the postwar period. He and seven members of the ERP were ousted from the FMLN for cutting a deal with the extreme right-wing ARENA government. Among the more controversial components of what was known as the San Andreas Pact: privatization of public services, tariff reduction, reduced civil service protection and greater “flexibility” of labor.
Joining a host of El Salvador’s military leaders who hold primary responsibility for the country’s worst crimes against humanity, Villalobos is one of the few former FMLN commanders named in the nonpartisan Truth Commission Report, which documents war crimes and other atrocities committed during the Salvadoran war. The report states, “There is full evidence that Joaquín Villalobos, as General-Secretary of ERP, held the highest position in that organization and bears special responsibility for the murders of mayors by ERP.” The report also recommended barring Villalobos from public office for life.
Many in El Salvador believe Villalobos went to Oxford as part of a calculated effort to reinvent himself following his disgrace, especially his acknowledgment after many years of denial of responsibility for the murder of Roque Dalton, El Salvador’s most revered poet and revolutionary. In an interview with my friend and fellow writer Juan José Dalton–Roque’s son–Villalobos admitted eighteen years later that the murder was “unjust, an error of youth, the worst that I committed.” Juan José calmly rejected this explanation by responding that “to accept that that phase of life–youth–is potentially criminal, is not possible.”
Except for the most extreme of extreme right-wing newspapers, such as El Diario de Hoy, that still publish him in El Salvador, Villalobos, the former guerrilla strategist, is no longer winning many hearts and minds in the country he left years ago.
New American Media
Joaquín Villalobos condemns President Chávez on the grounds that the three-times-elected leader is less revolutionary than he claims to be and dismisses changes in Venezuela as inauthentic because they have lacked violence and austerity. Villalobos’s uninformed eagerness to discredit the government does not deserve to be taken seriously by progressives.
Poverty in Venezuela has fallen by about 10 percent through policies that include food subsidies and missions in health and education. Contrary to Villalobos’s claim, a pro-poor orientation was the key to Chávez’s ascent as a young soldier and remains a cornerstone of his popularity today.
The nonrenewal of RCTV may tug at the cultural common ground of Venezuelans, but it is far from “as bad as leaving them without food,” because culture simply cannot be revoked. It is constantly being renovated, and changes bring opportunity. Villalobos is narrow-minded to assume that RCTV’s lewd programming would count as an irreplaceable part of Venezuelan national identity.
Just as culture is a dynamic process in which citizens are actively involved, so is politics, and the coordinates of revolution have changed since Villalobos’s day. Venezuela’s Twenty-first Century Socialism provides an alternative to the status quo without bloodshed or repression. In this sense, it resembles the Zapatista movement in Mexico, a peaceful push for democratic pluralism and indigenous rights. In the face of rampant global poverty and inequality, the fight against social, political and economic exclusion has become a revolutionary cause.
As a student of politics, Villalobos should know that socialism, like any model, is in practice expected to deviate from its textbook definition. If Chávez’s policies indeed “change some rules of the game” without fitting neatly into categories like “socialism” or “revolution,” perhaps the failure lies instead with Villalobos’s arrogant use of outmoded political theory.
Venezuela Information Office
New York City
After seven months in El Salvador on a journalism fellowship, I was shocked to read the author’s bio of Joaquín Villalobos in The Nation. It is inaccurate, incomplete and warrants a correction. It refers to Villalobos solely as a “top commander and strategist of the leftist FMLN in El Salvador” and “a principal in the 1992 peace accords,” implying a current association with the FMLN. While it is true he once belonged to a faction of the FMLN and he did sign the peace agreement, the former guerrilla army is now a political party, and Villalobos has not belonged to the FMLN for many years. On the contrary, Villalobos is a leading critic of the Salvadoran and Latin American left. He is a columnist for El Diario de Hoy, an extreme right-wing newspaper in El Salvador that brands dissent as a communist threat. The piece originally appeared in the Spanish newspaper El País, which accurately referred to him as an ex-Salvadoran guerrilla.
Villalobos zeroes in on Chávez’s controversial move to shut down RCTV. Although the censoring of any media outlet is cause for concern, Villalobos’s characterization of the network is inaccurate. RCTV does not simply broadcast soap operas, and it certainly does not promote a Venezuelan identity. RCTV along with much of the Venezuelan press, as I noted in an article for the Washington Post [February 4, 2006], covers every Chávez misstep, real or imagined. It is a public relations machine for the opposition, which supported and promoted the 2002 coup against Chávez and ignored the outpouring of Venezuelans who demanded his return.
I am deeply troubled that The Nation has presented Villalobos as a voice of the left, particularly when the genuine Latin American left and the troubles of the people there are often ignored or silenced by an unresponsive, uninterested press.
It is sad that The Nation gave space to someone who is known to have murdered one of El Salvador’s most celebrated poets and who was responsible for some of the FMLN’s darkest activities–the assassination of eleven Salvadoran mayors–who then failed at politics, only to turn to academia, where he finally got recognition from the world’s elite for trashing left movements in Latin America.
Joaquín Villalobos clearly does not know what he is talking about, as can be seen by his absurd claim that Chávez is popular only because there is no decent opposition. Obviously he has never seen firsthand the dedicated support Chávez enjoys or seen just how radicalized his supporters have become.
Villalobos complains that Chávez did not make a real–that is, violent–revolution. True, it is a peaceful revolution because the country’s poor majority feels it has a voice in governance for the first time in its history. This is not as fast as a violent revolution, but as sociologist Max Weber once pointed out, charismatic leaders can often be just as catalytic for radical change.
Villalobos limits his story of what is happening in Venezuela to its negative aspects: continued reliance on oil production, corruption and new elites. Although partly true, this is only half the picture. The other half includes the growth of participatory democracy, empowerment and greater social equality (incomes of the poorest have grown far faster than those of the rich, which have hardly grown at all).
Villalobos implies that Chávez would like to get rid of elections. There is simply no evidence for such a claim. Chávez has defended his policies in more elections in eight years (twelve, to be precise) than just about any politician on earth.
Author, Changing Venezuela by Taking Power (forthcoming from Verso)
Joaquín Villalobos’s editorial is startling for a man who declared himself to be on the “peaceful road” for the transition from capitalism to socialism (back in the 1990s and in the pages of Foreign Policy).
In 2006, visiting Venezuela a skeptic of the Twenty-first Century Socialism model, I came away impressed by Chávez’s genuine and extensive support. Millions of impoverished people who did not participate in the political process are now actors in a meaningful way. It is hard to imagine the kind of state violence that would be needed to repress this mobilized majority that rallies behind the Bolivarian Revolution.
As Villalobos enumerates the obvious–Chávez’s relationship with the armed forces, the absence of a mass party of socialism, the need for an ideological alternative to capitalism–he fails to acknowledge the innovations of the Bolivarian experiment, including the creation of the Bolivarian Circles and the social missions. Instead Villalobos appears to have a laundry list of prerequisites for social transformation drawn from a Soviet-era high school textbook.
His concern over RCTV, more an organ to overturn the will of the electorate, is also puzzling. Nonetheless, there is one point that Villalobos makes and that supporters of the Bolivarian process will ignore at our peril: The soft ideological struggle, like RCTV’s soft porn, cannot be won without providing meaningful alternatives and outlets for the many existential concerns that cannot be addressed in ideological terms–love, death, meaning. In this too, despite his raising of the issue, Villalobos is of little help.
POISON GAS, THEN & NOW
“Iraq’s Founding Mother,” Charles Glass’s excellent review of the latest book on Gertrude Bell [July 2], notes that “then-Secretary of State for War and Air Winston Churchill proposed the use of chemical weapons against Iraq’s Kurds, but the technology for aerial deployment of poison gas had yet to be developed.” Not so. The British Royal Air Force used poison gas against the Bolsheviks in 1919.Poison-laden mortar shells, however, were used against “Iraqi rebels” in the 1920s by the British Army.
DOWN AT THE FIVE SPOT
Thank you for David Yaffe’s splendid article on Ornette Coleman [“The Art of the Improviser,” May 14]. It brought back some precious memories. May I offer a few minor corrections? When I went to the Five Spot in November 1959, walking from my cold-water flat on East 5th Street (rent, $17.50 a month), there was no cover charge, and you could sit at a table for as long as you liked after buying a 60-cent beer. Yaffe seems to suggest that the “East Village” or some kind of “gentrified bohemia” already existed in the neighborhood. I never saw it–that was farther west. “Lonely Woman” was the anthem of my nineteenth year, and I’m grateful for the reminder.
Reading David Yaffe’s Ornette Coleman piece brought back fond memories of Ornette’s performance at the 2004 Newport Jazz Festival. The lineup was the same as his current band and they deftly moved through an intriguing, alternating fast/slow set of tunes. Ornette switched among sax, trumpet and violin while Denardo swirled through his father’s sounds via his trap set. Tony Falanga arced serenely throughout on the bass stage right, while Greg Cohen savaged his upright to the point that his hand turned violet! The skies darkened and ocean mist crept in, and in a once-in-a-lifetime moment, scores of gulls hovered over the stage: the only time it happened all day! As the last tune began I recognized a familiar rhythm and leaped up as “Lonely Woman” coursed over the crowd. When it was done I went in search of food. When I returned, my friend said, “Someone was just here looking for the guy who was hootin’ and hollerin’ during Ornette’s set. He wanted someone to explain it to him.” I think the gulls explained it all.
CORRECTIONS & CLARIFICATIONS
In Jon Wiener’s “End of an Era at the LA Weekly” [July 16/23], New Times Media did not buy Village Voice Media for $400 million; the value of the combined companies after the merger, in which no money exchanged hands, was estimated by those involved to be about $400 million.
Also in that issue, Ramachandra Guha’s “A War in the Heart of India” mentions that two Muslims have held the positions of chief justice and president of India. There have actually been three in each of these posts, which strengthens the author’s point: M. Hidayatullah, M.H. Beg and A.M. Ahmadi in the former and Zakir Hussain, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmad and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in the latter.
In “What Women See When They See Hillary” [July 2], Lakshmi Chaudhry reported that Jane Fonda has compared Clinton to “a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina.” That quote originally appeared in the LA Weekly, framed as a comment on Clinton’s disappointing war stance. Fonda, however, says that her remark did not refer to Hillary Clinton specifically. We regret the confusion.