Oslo Journal, Part V

Ali Abdulemam


Julio Borges is sporting a shiner. Why’s that? He is a Venezuelan politician, the co-founder of the Movimiento Primero Justicia, or the Justice First Movement. He is a member of the National Assembly. An opponent of the ruling party.

And they have beaten him up, right on the floor of the assembly. Three times, if I have heard him correctly. The latest attack was on April 30.

Borges gives a talk about Venezuela that appalls me. I knew Venezuela was bad; I am not an innocent where Chávez’s Venezuela is concerned (and it is still his country, in one sense). But I think it’s worse than I thought. Chávez had his clownish aspect, and so does the government that remains there. But these people are both clownish and brutal. They break bones and they kill.

They militarize the country, including children. Political violence is the atmosphere of chavismo. Venezuela has been semi-Castroized, in short — full Castroization being the goal of Chávez and his co-thugs.

Laugh at these clowns if you like, and I don’t blame you, but remember their thuggery: They have proven capable of much harm.

As I listen to Borges talk, I can’t help thinking of the American “liberals” — writing in the Washington Post, speaking on MSNBC — who eulogized Chávez. Who excused and praised him. I wish they had to live in today’s Venezuela. Then again, they might prosper . . .

There is an excellent Latin American contingent at this year’s forum, as there always is. Let me mention a few names.

Pedro Burelli is here. He is a Venezuelan-American businessman and political analyst, whose father was the foreign minister of Venezuela. Pedro is sharp, amiable, and commanding. Venezuela could really use him. Of course, so could the United States.

Robert and Ruth Bottome are here — an elegant couple from Caracas. They “still” live in Venezuela, as some of their friends say. Many Venezuelans have voted with their feet (going to Weston, Fla., for example — “Westonzuela”).

I am pleased to see, by his card, that Sr. Bottome has his office on Abraham Lincoln Avenue.

My fellow American, and one of my favorite people, Otto Reich, is here. He is the Cuban-born diplomat who served in the Reagan administration, the Bush 41 administration, and the Bush 43 administration. Among his positions was the ambassadorship to Venezuela.

Let me mention another friend of mine, Javier El-Hage, who works for the Human Rights Foundation (and for this forum). A Bolivian, he is a lawyer, economic scholar, activist, and bon vivant. What a combo.

Thor Halvorssen, the founder and leader of HRF and the Freedom Forum, is a Venezuelan — despite his Norwegian name, despite his overall Americanness (as I see it). He hears “Thor” three ways: in English, in Spanish (sounds like “Tor”), and in Norwegian (sounds like “Tur”). He answers to all of those.

Meron Estefanos speaks about Eritrea, her tortured country. You know what the thugs do? They capture a person, torture him, and phone his parents, so they can listen in. During the torture, they demand ransom.

A journalist from Angola, Rafael Marques de Morais, tells us about that country. Among other interesting things, he says that Africa has its first female billionaire: the daughter of the Angolan president.

Hmmm — wonder how she got so rich. Did she come up with some software, à la Bill Gates?

Let us pause to reflect on the name of that journalist: “Rafael Marques de Morais.” Music, of a sort.

Chee Soon Juan is familiar to readers of my column: He is the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. He is an admirable and determined man. Speaking here in Oslo, he decries the various injustices of that small state.

I have no doubt he is right in everything he says. I also have no doubt that Singapore is one of the least oppressive places in all the world to live.

Not that it can’t, and shouldn’t, be made better — a lot better. All honor to Chee and our fellow democrats.

Our comedian, Aron Kader, is back for a little more standup. Such a talented fellow — in his voices, in his physicality, in everything, really.

But listen: He does a series of George W. Bush jokes. Seriously. Bush has been out of office for four years. Barack Obama has been in office for four, and has been reelected. He is mired in scandal.

And comedians are still doing Bush jokes. What a bizarre culture we have.

But I look forward to hearing Kader again, and I look forward to seeing you tomorrow. Thanks much.