Speaking ill of the dead: Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez
Here is a very good article, which notes that many of those those saying we should not speak ill of Margaret Thatcher because she is dead did not show such restraint themselves on the death of Hugo Chavez. It also notes the fatuousness of US President Barack Obama’s calling her a great champion of freedom and liberty when she supported the apartheid regime in South Africa and the Pinochet regime in Chile and a few other dictators as well. Margaret Thatcher and misapplied death etiquette | Glenn Greenwald:
Whatever else may be true of her, Thatcher engaged in incredibly consequential acts that affected millions of people around the world. She played a key role not only in bringing about the first Gulf War but also using her influence to publicly advocate for the 2003 attack on Iraq. She denounced Nelson Mandela and his ANC as “terrorists”, something even David Cameron ultimately admitted was wrong. She was a steadfast friend to brutal tyrants such as Augusto Pinochet, Saddam Hussein and Indonesian dictator General Suharto (“One of our very best and most valuable friends”). And as my Guardian colleague Seumas Milne detailed last year, “across Britain Thatcher is still hated for the damage she inflicted – and for her political legacy of rampant inequality and greed, privatisation and social breakdown.”
and goes on to say
To demand that all of that be ignored in the face of one-sided requiems to her nobility and greatness is a bit bullying and tyrannical, not to mention warped. As David Wearing put it this morning in satirizing these speak-no-ill-of-the-deceased moralists: “People praising Thatcher’s legacy should show some respect for her victims. Tasteless.” Tellingly, few people have trouble understanding the need for balanced commentary when the political leaders disliked by the west pass away. Here, for instance, was what the Guardian reported upon the death last month of Hugo Chavez: “To the millions who detested him as a thug and charlatan, it will be occasion to bid, vocally or discreetly, good riddance.”
Margaret Thatcher and Hugo Chavez actually had quite a lot in common, and perhaps that too needs to be recognised. Both were, in their own way, exponents of Realpolitik, and put their country’s national self-interest first. Above all else, they did not want their country to be pushed around by foreigners, whether those foreigners were offshore oil companies (in the case of Venezuela), or a jumped-up military junta in Argentina (in the case of Britain).
There were also significant differences, however. For Maggie Thatcher, the Britain she represented was the Britain of the rich, whose interests must take precedence over the rights of the poor. For Hugo Chavez, at least in his rhetoric, and sometimes in reality, the rights of the poor must take precedence.
And I agree with the sentiment expressed by Mehdi Hasan, who tweeted (
@mehdirhasan) “Like many lefties I loathed her policies but I can’t help but admire her conviction politics, her willingness to lead not follow.” And I would say exactly the same of Hugo Chavez too.
Both tended to support unpleasant dictators too uncritically — in Margaret Thatcher’s case Pinochet of Chile, and in Hugo Chavez’s case Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Margaret Thatcher also supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, and the right-wing of her Conservative Party were fond of saying things like “Hang Mandela”. Nelson Mandela and Margaret Thatcher: the meeting that never was | World news | The Guardian:
The Conservative prime minister had dismissed the ANC as “a typical terrorist organisation” and refused to back sanctions against the apartheid government, pursuing instead a policy of “constructive engagement”. South Africa was then seen as a vital ally in stemming communist expansion.
Though Margaret Thatcher didn’t have much time for the ANC, when the ANC came to power it wasted no time in applying her policies of privatisation, which was probably the greatest compliment it could have paid her.
I suggest that when the Gauteng freeways are turned into toll roads, as has been threatened for several years now, they should be officially renamed the Margaret Thatcher Highway, as that would be the most fitting monument to her policies, and the most outstanding example of how they have been applied by the ANC government in South Africa.
It’s ironic that, when the freeway between Johannesburg and Pretoria was first opened in the 1960s, it was named the Ben Schoeman Highway, after the the National Party Minister of Transport. That was before Maggie Thatcher, before the privatisation mania of the Reagan/Thatcher years, and the roads and railways were still state owned and state run. With the change in policy, it would really be most fitting to rename it “The Margaret Thatcher Highway” the day e-tolling begins.