One of the advantage of taking a few days off in some remote area of France (yes, France has remote areas where you even need a boat to get to the closest railway station) is that you get to observe from close the natives. You also get to live like them, always a gustatory feast in France. And you also get to watch TV since after 8 PM, well, there is nothing to do besides getting drunk in the lone open “bar-tabac”.
Thus I did watch a little bit of TV and I was richly rewarded. On Channel 5 a couple of nights ago there was a talk show (an important one I was told) on Cuba and Castro. There were 4 guests. Two were luminaries of the anti Castro movement, and lo’ and behold they came with impeccable liberal/social democrat credentials. Well, at least one of them, Elizabeth Burgos. She is from Venezuela and settled long ago in Paris where in addition to denounce the Cuban dictatorship from a leftist perspective, she has become one of the staunchest and most articulate critics of Chavez, exposing clearly that his only aim is to install a personal dictatorship. Married to Regis Debray, the French guy that went to spend time in Bolivia with Che, she certainly cannot be accused of being a right winger! Not to mention that she is the journalist that made Rigoberta Menchu by writing her biography through interviews (a must read, by the way).
The other luminary was Serge Raffy, author of a much talked book in France, “Castro l’infidèle” which is a devastating biography on Castro, showing clearly the ruin dictator he has always been. I have seen the book in stores and it is a huge book, still selling since 2003, still on the front shelves, and all in spite of its heft.
The other two I did not know of, but one is an exiled Cuban who has made an academic career in France battling the romantic left and the last one a journalist that did not have any kind word for the Ramonet crowd.
But all of these details are not important: the major point, the deliciously significant point, is that the host had not bothered inviting someone to take the counter argument, to try to place a kind word on Castro. This is not the France I knew 30 years ago where it was difficult to have your audience understand what we already knew in LatAm, that Castro was just another dictator. Opinion has evolved so much in France that pro Castro jerks are not invited (or perhaps do not dare to show up?).
By the same token of course, I could observe that the image of Chavez is taking a nose dive in France. I even met common folks that knew little on Venezuela but were able to express clearly doubts on Chavez. You cannot befriend Iran or Cuba without suffering dire consequences. Now that Al Qaeda has put France officially in the hit list, it is interesting to speculate how long will France continue to toy the ambiguity line: obviously after Chavez seizing Total assets in Venezuela or Al Qaeda targeting French civilians, it might be time for the French wishy-washy successive governments to wake up and smell the coffee: appeasement never works. At least the intellectuals are starting to wake up.
I do not know how all of this will help Venezuela get rid of Chavez, but surely it cannot hurt our just cause.
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PS: there also magazines that one can pick up around such as the conservative “Valeurs actuelles” of September 8. There the criticism goes further, as expected. But what is new is the clear worry about a possible Chavez “succession” in Cuba. The other thing which is now obvious to Europeans (we in LatAm had known about it long ago) is the militaristic nature of the Cuban regime. I translate two sentences:
“IT is Venezuela’s petrodollars …which allow the communist nomenklatura to line up its pockets”
“Support of the regime, the army (55 000) is imbedded in the system. Generals are rich and powerful men. This privileged caste will do anything to preserve its takings.”
Obviously, from right to left, the thinking people of France are not buying the Castro-chavismo. We will leave it to Ken Livingston to keep making a fool of itself, although like Ramonet he is certainly cashing in...