Two parties

Prince Bandar Sultan, Saudi Arabia’s well-connected ambassador to Washington, threw a lavish retirement party for his good friend Colin Powell, according to US News & World Report:

“The Beluga caviar at my table,” said one partygoer, “would have bought my automobile 30 times over.” Guests washed that down with Dom Perignon and puffed on real Cuban stogies as Roberta Flack crooned “Killing Me Softly.” Our tipster said the scene was “almost obscene.”

I remember hearing Ms. Flack sing at a campaign fundraiser for George McGovern in 1972. Oh well; I guess a gig is a gig. And there’s nothing like an almost-obscene party to prove there are no hard feelings about the mild criticism Saudi rulers have received from the Bush administration.

And speaking of parties paid for by repressive oil-rich states, the government of Venezuela picked up the tab for a fancy celebration at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology near Boston.

As I recently learned, the Venezuelan government owns the Houston-based oil company Citgo and paid $1.5 million to restore a famous Citgo advertising sign near Fenway Park in Boston– an effort, perhaps, to win propaganda points with Red Sox fans.

According to the blog Vcrisis:

…The audience included a mix of North American students and others interested in learning about Venezuela. The repeated cheers from the audience made it clear that this was a distinctly partisan affair.

What gave the evening the feeling of a farce were the lavish details of the “fiesta,” from the grilled shrimp and duck quesadilla appetizers to the tables set up with bottled and sparkling water, a wide assortment of sodas and natural juices, to the Venezuelan Consulate ushers who led guests through the doors and to their seats beneath an imposing mural of MIT’s Alma Mater. The evening must have cost a small fortune, judging by the amounts of food and entertainment and the notable size of the government entourage.

When I lived in St. Louis in the 1980s I was invited to a breakfast meeting with a representative from the embassy of Nicaragua, which at the time was governed by the Sadinistas. I was the only one who asked an uncomfortable question (about press freedom, I think) and I wasn’t satisfied with the answer. But at least the meeting was held at a small family restaurant in a working-class neighborhood.

What a difference $56 a barrel makes.