EspañolWhile the prestigious Foreign Policy magazine has rewarded the best and brightest minds of the year in its 2014 list of 100 Leading Global Thinkers, there were other individuals with aspirations of intellectual recognition that were sadly left out.
They’re personalities who grace conferences, appear as experts in the media, and give speeches as if they were grand luminaries, seemingly undeterred by only being able to offer falsehoods and clichés. After taking a look back through 2014, our initial shortlist was so long that we had to cut things down somehow — so we settled on only public figures in the Americas who consider themselves to be thinkers.
Allow me, along with my colleague Adam Dubove, to present the top 10 non-thinkers of the hemisphere in 2014. We think they also deserve recognition for their efforts.
1. Axel Kicillof
Taking the top spot is the minister responsible for Argentina’s economy, the golden child of President Cristina Kirchner and at the top of his university class with a doctorate in economics. Perhaps under political duress, Kicillof asserted in May that the “movement of prices is much more complex than the word inflation, which is an absurd idea.”
Argentina faces annual inflation of 40 percent, but this was flat-out denied by Kicillof in December: “inflation isn’t at 40 percent.” Apparently, inflation is something “they use to crush us with the chains of discouragement, of bad feeling, and of failure — but the failure is theirs.”
For Kicilloff, the uncontrollable rise in prices that Argentinean are witnessing isn’t a reality, but a conspiracy led by vulture funds: “They’re plotting and hoping that in January there’s going to be economic carnage, an atomic bomb, to create a suitable environment for them to come in and make economic adjustments.”
2. Dick Cheney
The former vice president of the United States, and leader of the neoconservative wing of the Republican party, made an apparent slip of the tongue when he referred to the Senate investigation into CIA torture as “full of crap.” There seems to be little space for human rights within Cheney’s political thinking: the ends “absolutely” justify the means, despite the report revealing that brutal interrogation techniques were often completely ineffective and regularly applied to people who turned out to be innocent.
3. René Perez (a.k.a. Residente)
The singer of Puerto Rican group Calle 13 presents himself as a rebel, and his songs tend to have an anti-system message. Yet outside his music, Rene Pérez, also known as Residente, has sided with the most authoritarian and repressive governments in Latin America. In an interview earlier this year, while anti-government protests in Venezuela were ongoing, the singer suggested that Venezuelan media were subject to “manipulation,” and it would therefore be “irresponsible” to discuss the issue “outside of the country, without knowing what they’re living through there.”
Yet for Residente, one need only live in a country if planning to criticize it, being open with his praise for the legacy of former strongman President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013). While thousands of Venezuelans took to the streets to decry the human-rights violations of the Chavista regime, Pérez weighed in with his thoughts.
“The legacy [of Chávez], is of unity, of unifying countries, and this Latin-American unity we’re feeling now has lots to do with his work, with what he did,” Pérez opined. “You can feel it. I never felt this before; the strength of it, and the desire of different countries to work together … is thanks to his work. It was fundamentally important.”
4. Danny Glover
Admiring 21st-century socialism from the comfortable distance of Hollywood might appear contradictory for some, but not so for Danny Glover. The US actor — former star of the Lethal Weapon franchise — argued in March that the late Hugo Chávez “gave his last breath for a free, democratic, and self-determined Venezuela.”
When it comes to making absurd statements, Glover has class: in 2011, he accused USAID contractor Alan Gross — recently released after five years in a Cuban jail for the “crime” of giving telecommunications software to a remote Jewish community on the island — of trying to “undermine Cuba’s government.”
5. Thomas Donahue
After a flying visit to Havana in May, Tom Donahue, president of the United States Chamber of Commerce, hailed the “evidence that we’re seeing in Cuba of an extraordinary expansion of free enterprise, the reduction in government jobs, and more private hiring, all of which is moving in the right direction.”
Donahue forgot to mention that no corporation on the island, including those that depend on foreign investment, has majority private ownership — unless you count the regime as private. In fact, the only solution for many Cubans trying to obtain necessary goods or services continues to be the black market.
6. Robert Reich
The former secretary of labor during Bill Clinton’s presidency authored a petition on MoveOn.org, calling on McDonald’s and Walmart to boost the salaries of their workers: “Your typical employee is now earning [US]$8.25 to $8.80 an hour … you can easily afford to pay them $15 an hour without causing layoffs or requiring price hikes.”
Reich ignored the fact that salaries don’t depend on the generosity of business owners, but on the productivity of the worker. A policy of the kind advocated by Reich would generate greater unemployment and investment in machines to replace costly human labor.
7. David Frum
The one-time Canadian immigrant, now a citizen of the United States after work as a speech-writer for former President George W. Bush, wants to apply stricter laws against immigrants. As he wrote in The Atlantic, “They are people coping with a very ugly set of choices, made worse by America’s past laxity on immigration. If the present surge is not stopped and reversed, those choices will get uglier still.”
Frum is also an opponent of the legalization of marijuana in the United States. While he admits that prohibition isn’t the best solution, he believes that legalizing cannabis would magnify the problems currently associated with the recreational use of marijuana — despite the experience of Colorado, which has seen no such magnification.
8. David Suzuki
Suzuki is one of the biggest fans around of Cuba’s Castro brothers. The Canadian scientist has reiterated on various occasions that he believes that “Cuba is a model” of sustainability. Meanwhile, despite a centralized economy that decides how many grams of chicken or rice go to each Cuban citizen, 80 percent of Cuba’s food is imported.
9. Oliver Stone
US movie director Oliver Stone never misses an opportunity to sing the virtues of the most repressive regimes in Latin America, so long as they denounce the United States. His 2009 documentary South of the Border (reviewed here) is an extended paean to all of them: Fidel Castro, Hugo Chávez, Bolivia’s Evo Morales, and Argentina’s Néstor and Cristina Kirchner all got a look-in.
But this year, Stone was at it again, complaining at a conference in February that “the western media has been so against Chávez, and Ecuador, and Bolivia.” Not all who heard his comments let him off the hook, however. In an open letter given to him during the same event, the leaders of EsLibertad (of Students for Liberty) invited him to reflect on the relationship between his comments and reality:
“It is easy to praise the benefits of populism when one does not have to endure its negative consequences day after day. It is understandable that you preach these ideals when you don’t face the public policies that perpetuate impunity and systematic violence,” wrote the young Latin-American student leaders.
“It is easy to crusade for socialism when you do not suffer the struggles many Latin Americans go through every day in search for food, the long lines in supermarkets to secure the most basic consumer products — not to mention skyrocketing inflation and other perils that socialism imposes on individuals who would otherwise just peacefully carry on with their lives,” they added.
10. Alex Freyre
Alex Freyre rose to prominence in Argentina as the leader of demonstrations calling for legal recognition of same-sex marriage. For his role in this movement, he was rewarded with a government position, as director of the Sexual Diversity Memory Archive.
However, his fame turned into notoriety in October when he asserted that if the opposition deputy and presidential candidate for 2015 Sergio Massa wins a victory next year, and pays off Argentina’s debt to so-called vulture funds, many sufferers of HIV/AIDS will die as a result.
“Massa has spoken about the economic decisions that he will take, and that he’s going to pay the vulture funds. The result will be that there won’t be any medication,” he told a radio talk show. “It’s not something that I want to happen, nor something I say with relish. How could I want anyone to die? No, a ton of my friends are going to die. I could also die; I’ve also got HIV.”
Shortly afterwards in December, on World Aids Day, Freyre theorized that the virus “came [to Argentina] as a result of neoliberalism.”
Adam Dubove contributed to this article. Translated by Laurie Blair.