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“Here’s what I think”: You’re still not getting it on Venezuela

Tom Cleaver

About a month ago, in my first column here, I wrote about Venezuela and the crisis that was developing there, just after Juan Guaido had declared himself as Interim President of the South American nation. I’m not going to address the Venezuela issue in its entirety again, I’ve got a better imagination than that, but there is something that I’d like to go into a bit more detail in. That something is the reaction to the crisis there from people outside of Venezuela; more specifically here in Cyprus, but I’m sure it’s the same in other countries too.

For those unaware, here is (briefly) how we got here: Venezuela is an oil-rich country, but also one where corruption was rife. It is estimated that up to US$300 billion has been embezzled by Venezuela’s ruling class since 2006, which went pretty well under the radar until the price of oil fell and the economy collapsed. The ruling party lost the 2015 legislative elections and could thus no longer create laws unopposed. This led to President Nicolas Maduro creating a new legislature full of people who agreed with him in 2017. With Presidential elections on the horizon in 2018, Maduro proceeded to arrest and disqualify various opposition politicians from said elections. He also brought the date of the election forward by seven months. The vast majority of Venezuelans did not vote in those elections, and among the small amount of votes that were cast, Maduro “won”. A few months later, with destitution and hunger rising and Maduro having been inaugurated for his second term, Juan Guaido proclaimed himself Interim President, invoking an article in the country’s constitution which would allow him to do so if Venezuela had no leader, which he argued it did not.

At that point Venezuela became global front page news, people began forming opinions, and that’s where it got problematic. People on the left, out of an instinctive and understandable suspicion towards America and anyone that agrees with America’s foreign policy, decided to endorse Maduro. In my first column I wrote that endorsing Maduro means that you do not care about democracy so long as the power structures fit your agenda, and if anything that has become more obvious. Some of the international journalists who arrived in Venezuela to report on what is now one of the world’s biggest stories have also been arrested, including one because he filmed a child eating trash. The child apparently also faced retribution for his “crime”. Yet still, as unbelievable as it may sound to some of you, there are numerous people who endorse and defend Nicolas Maduro.

“If you are on the left of politics and you endorse Maduro, I am disappointed in you”

I can’t be bothered to go into more detail as regards to the facts of the matter, it would be beating a dead horse in my eyes, I’ve written about them already, and they’re widely available. The rest of this week’s column is written to anyone on the left still endorsing Maduro; the rest of you can finish up now if you like. Get back to work, I’ll see you next week. If, however, you are on the left of politics and you still endorse Maduro, I am disappointed in you.

You see, this isn’t just about Venezuela, it’s about ideology. It’s instinctive opposition to the United States of America’s foreign intervention, and as I’ve said given America’s history, you would be right to be sceptical. It’s also protection of a “socialist” in power because you also see yourselves as socialists. However, there is no guarantee that America is going to be wrong with every foreign policy action it takes. Sometimes, America is right, and sometimes it isn’t even America behind what’s happened. Has it not occurred to you that the people of Venezuela might see a government lead the country to financial ruin and poverty, all the while stripping away democracy, and the people might get angry about that and demand regime change of their own accord? I very much doubt that the millions of Venezuelans who have protested against this government are all American hacks, especially given that I’ve known some of them personally for years.

“There was a time when I believed that this wilful ignorance was exclusively a characteristic of the far right”

Further, I don’t buy the “socialism” card. You can believe in socialism all you like, and there are countries running social democratic models, such as Norway and Denmark, who are doing incredibly well for themselves. However, you have to be economically illiterate and blind to what is actually going on in Venezuela to believe that Maduro’s corruption-ridden economic model is working. If you aren’t economically illiterate, I can only assume you’re ideologues, dogmatists. What I have heard from some of you is that all of these facts, the fact that the elections were not free or fair, the fact that Maduro’s corruption is at fault for decimating the economy, are made up, and that you yourselves have a different set of facts which conveniently support your opinion. There was a time when I believed that this wilful ignorance, this rejection of facts and common knowledge, was exclusively a characteristic of the far right. I thought that the left, with its normally more compassionate form of politics, would be free from the scourge of just making stuff up to suit its agenda that has plagued the far right. Now I’m thinking that maybe I was wrong, and that is why I am disappointed in you.

“You’re dogmatists and ideologues, who don’t particularly care about the lives of Venezuelans”

The only consistent line of defence you can have for yourself given all of this, therefore, is that you do not care about the economic situation of the country, or democracy, or the people’s lives which have been impacted by the current regime’s economic neglect and disembowelment of democracy, so long as the person in power is a socialist. At this point at least you would be consistent, but what sort of advert for socialism in the rest of the world is Venezuela? What likelihood do you think there is that other countries and other people would want to adopt an ideology if you have tied it to a failed state, which you are supporting at every turn? You should be nuanced, and be able to denounce a leader who is clearly harmful to his country, clearly antidemocratic, and clearly corrupt, even if he calls himself a socialist. Otherwise you’re ideologues, in the same league as the far right.

Overall, therefore, you have a choice on Venezuela, and on your politics in general. Either you accept the nuance of the world, that some socialists are just as corrupt, just as neglectful, and just as dictatorial as some on the right, or you’re dogmatists and ideologues who don’t care about facts, and don’t particularly care about the lives of people in Venezuela, so long as the person in power calls himself a socialist and sticks two fingers up at America. If it’s the latter, you should rethink your politics. When the facts change, I change my mind. There appear to be too many of you out there who want to change the facts.

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