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Plus ça change: Tito and Chávez

Bernard Levin wrote this about a deceased leader much-lauded by progressives when certain domestic grievances became public after the icon’s death:

Tito’s widow has been claiming (unsuccessfully) her inheritance; he had got rid of her a few years before his death, no doubt to instal something more agreeable and up-to-date in her place, and they clearly parted very non-speaks indeed – so much so that she seems to have lived under conditions not far removed from house arrest ever since.

The marital relations of Tito do not concern me; what caused me to twitch an eyebrow when I read of the dispute over his property was the list of said property. It included cars, motorboats, horses, yachts, jewellery, paintings, a score of villas, orchards, a safari park and vineyards; and the value amounted to millions of pounds.

You see the point immediately, no doubt. What was this noble, selfless, upright, honourable, caring, moral, austere, heroic, truly socialist figure – the Stafford Cripps of the Balkans, the Keir Hardie of the non-aligned, the Nye Bevan of small nations – what was he doing with millions of pounds’ worth of luxury goods, disappointed widow or now disappointed widow?

[...]

Nor … is the corruption of power limited to one end of the political spectrum. It is true that supporters of left-wing regimes, and of left-wing insurgents against right-wing regimes, invariably claim that the defeated or beleaguered forces of the right are financially corrupt, and those making the claims proudly contrast their own side’s scrupulous purity in money matters, to such an extent that it sometimes seems as though Marxism is not an ideology but an antibiotic, with the miraculous property of cleansing the patient’s blood of avarice, dishonesty and a taste for grands crus and caviar.

But apart from the fact that it almost always turns out, even if only after some years, that the Marxist power-brokers were not in the least averse to sleeping off feather beds, dining off gold plate and exercising every variety of droit de seigneur, there is no evidence at all that a belief in communism, even if it is genuine rather than cynically professed, is in any way a guarantee of financial probity and moral uprightness.

[...]

As it happens, I knew that Tito was a crook as long ago as 1977, when on a state visit to France, he stopped at Michel Guérard’s place at Eugénie-les-Bains (to judge by that waistline, I bet he didn’t go for the cuisine minceur) and skedaddled without paying the bill.

[...]

I remember thinking at the time that Tito had been so accustomed to bilking restaurateurs and shopkeepers in his his own country without being challenged (because none, back home, would dare to challenge him) that he had altogether forgotten that elsewhere a bit of give is expected to accompany the take.

– Bernard Levin, from an article originally published in the Times on January 24th, 1986, and reprinted in his collection In These Times.

I have never heard that the late Commandante Hugo Chávez went so far as to put his troublesome ex under house arrest, but he has certainly had wife trouble. Marisabel Rodriguez, his second wife, claims that he made use of his official position to bully her. Not just wife trouble, woman trouble generally. Like Tito, Chávez was something of a Don Juan. His longest lasting paramour, Herma Marksman, told the Sunday Times in 2006 (subscription required to see full article) that he was a romantic lover but was “imposing a fascist dictatorship”. The similarities between Tito and the now presumably re-reincarnated reincarnation of Bolivar do not end there. Chavez seems to have done well for himself. I would prefer to have more than one source before endorsing the oft-quoted estimate of his personal fortune at a billion dollars made by Criminal Justice International Associates (CJIA), but An Argentinian journalist, Olga Wornat, can be heard here being interviewed by ABC News in 2007 and she does provide sources to suggest he liked the high life. Wornat wrote a book about several Latin American leaders called “Accursed Chronicles”, for which she interviewed Chávez himself and many of those close to him including cabinet members, his two ex-wives, his long time lover Herma Marksman mentioned above, his tailor and his psychiatrist. She says that he had collections of luxury watches and Italian suits, spent $65 million on a private Airbus (with a $500,000 bill to repaint the flag on the jet so it would look the way it did when he used to draw it in school) and that his family, despite the turbulent relations between him and them, were the “richest in Venezuela” and were the “royal family” of their home state. His daughter Rosines flashing wads of dollars on Instagram caused widespread irritation among less well-connected Venezuelans, who face severe restrictions when trying to obtain dollars.

Comnandante Chavez had the waistline to match Marshall Tito’s. Did he feel obliged to pay his restaurant bills? I did not find any specific claim that he did not, but it would be a brave restaurant owner who presented El Presidente with a bill when said Presidente had displayed such a penchant for expropriations, often done openly on his personal whim and in revenge for trivial thwarting of his desires; who, for example, seized the Hilton resort on Margarita Island in with the words,

“To hold the conference we had to ask for permission… and the owners tried to impose conditions on the revolutionary government. No way,” AFP quotes Chávez as saying. “So I said, ‘Let’s expropriate it.’ And now it’s been expropriated.”

Chávez is one up on Tito; Josip stole the meal, Hugo stole the whole building. In response, let it be noted, to the rightful owners having had the gall to expect that their permission was required before the revolutionary government could use their building.

So, when’s the reading of the will?

22 comments to Plus ça change: Tito and Chávez

  • PersonFromPorlock

    Not really a sin of the authoritarians in particular, though. The sensible way to look at government is that it’s all about politicians getting their hands on the money, with an overlay of ingenious excuses.

  • RAB

    All this reminds me of someone… he was a Socialist and very popular round these parts till recently… oh what was his name now, it’s on the tip of my bum… Ah yes Tony Blair.

  • Sam Duncan

    The best evidence that fascism is a phenomenon of the Left comes not from the big names – the National Socialists, Stalin, or the former communist Mussolini – but from these minor dictators. Tito’s Yugoslavia was almost indistinguishable from Franco’s Spain, yet we’re supposed to believe they were polar opposites, and I’m convinced that the average bloke on the street would be pretty hard-pushed to tell you what side Péron was supposed to have played for. (“Was he the guy in Chilé, or… ? Oh, Evita! Oh, well, he was definitely… er, hang on a minute…”) A dictator’s a dictator, and nine times out of ten they rise out of populist socialism.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    My second favourite author, Evelyn Waugh, put about the idea that Tito was actually a diesel dyke.

    When he met Tito in a very skimpy swimming costume that left no question as to Tito’s sex he simply altered his story a bit.

    In the end Randolph Churchill, the son of the PM, had to tell Waugh to “shut up”.

  • Paul Marks

    Among the normal Communist (and Islamist – another part of the “Unholy Alliance”) people crying about the death of Chevez – there was one usual person. ex President James Earl Carter.

    Now Carter was (and is) a weirdo – but he certainly was not (and is not?) a Communist, so why is going around saying Chevez was a wonderful fellow?

    A shared “problem with Jews”?

    As for the poor of Venezuela – Chevez has left them an utterly bankrupt country.

    I actually hope his Socialist party wins the upcomming elections – for then they will be office when the whole farce collapses. It is too late to prevent that now.

  • veryretired

    Shannon Love at Chicagoboyz has made the painfully obvious point in a couple of well written essays that greed and a susceptibility to Lord Acton’s dicta are universal human characteristics.

    It then follows that the key to maintaining a reasonably non-corrupt and greed debased society is requiring that these flaws in human nature be kept away from the enabling powers of a state’s coercive apparatus, and kept as completely as possible in the voluntary, free market contractual environment, in which the consent of those involved with the greedy party is required, and the career of the fledgling corrupt pol is limited by the unavailabilty of the coercive powers of the state.

    We who demand the maximum level of individual freedom, and a limited state prevented from subverting that freedom, do not do so because we think men are angels, or free from flaws and failings, but because we know that all humans are creatures of positives and negatives.

    I am not threatened by the creative energy of the man who designs a new product, and then asks me to pay to use it, or the creative woman who designs a new medicine, and asks for payment to supply it. These people, who may be good, bad, and indifferent in the common mix of humanity, offer their product or idea, and I am able to accept or reject as I see fit.

    I am threatened, however, both in my property and my life, by the corrupt pol who decides the law is his to use as he sees fit to enrich himself and his friends, and has no qualm about pointing the pistol of the state at my forehead and demanding my money or my life.

    We argue for the limited state not to enrich the wealthy, but to strip from the unscrupulous the weaponry of coercion and abuse, and return to the law its only true justification—the protection of the rights and liberties of the honest, hard-working citizen.

  • Rich Rostrom

    One major difference between Tito and Chavez: Tito was competent.

    Tito inherited a relatively poor country, lacking any great natural resources, which had been ravaged by four years of intense warfare, and was bitterly divided by the grudges from that war. (Yes, Tito’s Partisan forces were responsible for some of the bloodshed and destruction, but Germans, Bulgarians, Italians, Hungarians, Ustashe, Albanian SS, and renegade Chetniks thoroughly trashed the country between them.)

    When he died, Yugoslavia was moderately prosperous and quite peaceful.

    Chavez inherited a peaceful, long-established democracy, with a huge natural-resource jackpot, which increased enormously in value. When he died, Venezuela was massively indebted, ravaged by the worst criminal violence in the world, with crumbling infrastracture, a ruined economy, a government infested with looters, and nothing to show for a trillion $ in oil revenue but modest (and possibly mythical) improvements in public health, literacy, and the poverty rate.

    Chavez

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Happy Global Girlies Day, all you sheilas! Don’t forget to only read broad-sheet newspapers. And don’t forget that all the special attention will disappear at midnight.
    As for the blokes- we have our own day soon. The first day in April, in fact. Not long now!

  • llamas

    Rich Rpstrom wrote:

    “When he died, Yugoslavia was moderately prosperous and quite peaceful.”

    Well – not quite.

    When Tito died (1980) Yugoslavia was in a very perilous economic state, with mass unemployment, huge deficits and a very sick balance of payments. Y’slavia embarked on a course of economic expansion in the early 1970′s, funded by huge borrowing from Western Europe and elsewhere and intended to be paid off by enhanced tourism and exports of all sorts. Unfortunately, while some tourists came (including ME), the hoped-for exports never really took off, and when the whole of Europe went sideways in the mid’70′s oil crisis, Y’slavia fell off a cliff. They (eventually) had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF to be bailed out under the most humilating circumstances. This economic collapse played a large part in creating the social and ethnic problems that we have been seeing ever since.

    I was there in 1978, travelling in a group, on motorcycles. It has some of the most delightful scenery imaginable, roads to die for (smooth and endless) and the people were lovely – but the cracks were already visible. High unemployment, high inflation and even then, some pretty-nasty nationalist expressions. It was heaven on earth then for a young man looking to travel, who had hard currency to spend – cheap food, cheap beer, cheap petrol, and the pulchritude coefficient agreeably high – but the undercurrents were not nice at all.

    At the time, things were pretty desperate economically – I recall the bitter descriptions of how agricultural products attractive to the West (fruits, preserves, dairy) were being ruthlessly exported to obtain hard currency, while staples of inferior quality had to be imported from the Soviet bloc to feed the people.

    I’d rather Tito than Chavez, any day, but that doesn’t alter the point that his regime made some ghastly economic mis-steps, the consequences of which contributed to vast bloodshed.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Laird

    Paul Marks, Carter was indeed “a weirdo”, but in his prime he was a well-intentioned naïf. However, in the last decade or so he has gone completely insane, and is now just an embarassment. I don’t wish his death, but the world won’t be any worse off when he’s gone.

    Nick (nice-guy) Gray, WTF? I have no idea what you’re talking about.

  • Paul Marks

    I think I agree Laird – but there is certainly a lot of odd stuff in Carter’s life.

    The support for the wild spending Maddox as Governer of Georgia in 1966 is odd – not for the wild spending, but because Maddox wasa famous racist, and only a few years late Carter was doing the antiracist tapdance.

    A sincere change of heart? The antisemitism of recent years says “no” – perhaps Carter has changed (gone insane) or perhaps old age has meant that it is harder to cover up that he is a nasty Populist.

    The sort of person who tried to incite hated of “the rich” (and of racial groups) in order to get votes.

    He dropped the anti black stuff in the 1960s – but there are a lot of blacks and they have the vote (Governor Wallace in Alabama did the same thing he went from extreme anti N…. to ultra supporter of “black rights” – and got himself elected again, from his wheelchair).

  • Jacob

    To Sam Duncan:
    No need to denigrate Franco.
    He saved Spain from communism, and later kept it out from WW2.
    He was a dictator, yes, but no murderer, rather a traditional Christian-Conservative.
    Neither did he steal private property (“nationalization”).
    He gave Spain some much needed stability and tranquility.

    He was much denigrated by the leftist media and propaganda machine, precisely because he did the good service to Spain of keeping those commies away from power.

  • Jacob

    More about Franco: he was not corrupt, and dodn’t get rich himself like those commie pigs, Tito and Chavez.

  • Paul Marks

    The best biography of Franco is by Brian Crozier – the modern “academic” biography is worthless.

    In the real world there are no wonderful alternatives. F. Franco know nothing about economics (which is at least better than knowing less than nothing – knowing things that just are not true, as the Reds did and do). And he killed anyone on the other side – like another man would pluck nose hairs. But his foes were also killers – just as many of the targets of the Alien and Sedition Acts of John Adams really were working with the French Revolutionaries (againt the United States), the wrong method (but a real threat).

    But he could have won World War II for Hitler by closing the Med (Gib could have been taken in a day) and did NOT.

    And a lot of Jews owed their lives to Franco.

    Which is more than can be said for that piece of shit Franklin Roosevelt (although trying to get people in New York or Hollywood to understand the truth appears to be impossible).

    As for what has replaced Franco……

    All other things being equal, democracy is better than military dictatorship.

    But all other things are NOT equal – the 1978 Constitution (a Christmas Tree of “rights”) wrote the long term doom of the democratic experiment in Spain.

    Spain is facing both economic and demographic collapse (indeed slow-motion genocide). However, cultural decline means that most people are unable to see the real danger to them – instead blaming all their problems on “the corporations” and “the rich”.

    Killing is not enough (if it was Sulla would have saved the Roman Republic), ideas need to be fought with ideas – not just lead.

  • Bruce

    Ah, 1980!

    “Arms for Afghanistan!”

    “Legs for Tito!”

  • Jacob

    The Spanish civil war was brutal, both sides killed indiscriminately, a lot of people perished.
    But, as far as I know, during Franco’s long reign, after the war, from 39 to 75, there were no atrocities or systematic murders.
    Nor was there much corruption.
    And, yes, he did what he could to save Jews, actively. That’s more than can be said about all other civilized Europeans, like the Swiss, or Swedes, or French or Dutch.
    He was, I think, a devout Christian and upright in his personal life.

  • Michael Jennings

    What Llamas said. Tito keep Yugoslavia peaceful by bribing the people with an enormous amount of money that had been borrowed from foreigners. It was not sustainable, and when he was gone, well we know what followed. I’m actually on the Croatian island of Vis right night Beautiful place, lovely food, nice people, and vastly cheaper than the Italian side of the Adriatic. On this trip I have been to Belgrade (fun city with metropolitan pretentions, buit somewhat bitter about recent history, Sarajevo and Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina (nice, spectacularly located places where the walls of the buildings are filled with a vast number of holes) and now the Dalmatian coast (always lovely). I cannot help but think that the Yugoslavians under Tito were a vast deal freer than the people of most communist countries, simply due to the fact that if they wanted to go to Italy, nobody tried to stop them. What happened afterwards, though, must be held against Tito, at least somewhat.

  • Michael Jennings

    As Paul said, in the crunch Franco was not in Hitler’s side. He has to get some points for that. And he gets many points for the fact that Jews who got to Spain were safe. (I adore Spain. It’s one of my very favourite countries. It is in a horrible mess now though, to an extent that few people are acknowledging).

  • I am no fan of Haaretz (it is more or less the Israeli version of the NYT), so FWIW.

  • Plus, there are all kinds of info about concentration and forced-labor camps, summary executions of political opponents, and other dictatorship-as-usual kind of stuff in the Wikipedia entry on Franco. Again, FWIW.

  • Jacob

    “concentration and forced-labor camps, summary executions of political opponents” – the wikipedia article states that these things occured immediately after the end of the civil war, and were part of the consolidation of power, and, maybe, reprisals, or continuation of the civil war violence.
    Though political opposition, freedom of expression and trade unions were suppresed during the whole Franco period, there were no concentration camps or political murders as a routine, like there were in all the communist countries.
    He was a dictator, not a libertarian for sure, but very different from the usual totalitarian regimes.

  • Rich Rostrom

    Franco was not a particularly bad guy, and probably better than the alternative in Spain (the rojos), but that is praising with faint damns.

    As to personal corruption, Spain had a fair amount of crony-capitalist infestation. And one of Franco’s closest allies was an outright thief with state assistance (Juan March).

    However, even March’s depredations were nothing compared to the wholesale looting by the “boli-bourgeoisie” of chavista Venezuela.