Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Bolivarian Oblivion

“What’s so exciting about at last visiting Venezuela is that I can see how a better world is being created … The transformations that Venezuela is making toward the creation of another socio-economic model could have a global impact”
 —Linguist/activist Noam Chomsky, in 2009

“These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger. Who’s the banana republic now?”
 —Senator Bernie Sanders, on his web site in 2011

“The election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
 —Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, in 2012

“[Venezuela president Hugo] Chavez showed us that there is a different and a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.”
 —Soon-to-be UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, in 2013

“Venezuela’s problem isn’t too much socialism—it’s not enough. The country, whose former president Hugo Chavez proclaimed ‘21st century socialism’, is deep in crisis. It has the world’s highest inflation rate—720 percent and rising. Its currency has plummeted to less than 1 percent of its official value, making it hard to import food. Hunger is endemic. Buying food at subsidised shops where price controls operate involves queuing for four hours, only on certain days, and sometimes still getting nothing. Medicines and sanitary products are scarce. Chronic power blackouts have seen factories close and public sector workers move to a two-day week. Growing numbers are emigrating, or depend on products sent by relatives abroad.”
 —Dave Sewell, writing in the Socialist Worker last August
Politicians from all the British political parties—including Labour—have been condemning the chaos, violence and ongoing power grab in Venezuela by the country’s wanton president, Nicolás Maduro. Notably absent among them, though, is Labour’s leader Jeremy Corbyn. Members of his own party are urging him to speak up. He has not spoken publicly about Venezuela since praising Maduro two years ago. He did, however, recently delete a post from his web site praising Venezuela for “seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting … Neo Liberal policies.” In Spain, by contrast, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has said he “strongly condemned the destruction of the democratic freedoms that is taking place in Venezuela.”

In Ireland a group representing Venezuelan citizens living here has gone on record as rejecting the Constituent Assembly whose members were elected on Sunday. The assembly, whose members will come exclusively from Maduro’s Socialist party, will be able to dissolve the congress, which is controlled by the political opposition but which has been stymied by Maduro’s authoritarianism and packing of the courts. A reported ten people died in violence that erupted from protests in the the Venezuelan streets on election day. Two opposition leaders, Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma, have been arrested in their homes.

In the interest of fairness, on its morning news program today, Ireland’s state broadcaster RTÉ interviewed a recently returned observer of Sunday’s election, Adrian Kane, who is an organizer for Ireland’s Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union (SIPTU). Kane defended the integrity of the vote—which has been criticized by other observers—citing glowing reports of past Venezuelan elections from The Carter Center and other organizations and saying that everything looked fine at the five polling stations he had visited.

He also dismissed the following comment on social media from Luis Rondon, one of five directors of the electoral council: “For the first time since I took up this commitment to the country, I cannot guarantee the consistency or veracity of the results offered.” The quote was from a Reuters report citing mathematical inconsistencies in internal electoral council data reviewed by Reuters and the 8.1-million-voter turnout reported by the government. Kane also seemed unaware that The Carter Center, which he had cited, had issued a statement which read, in part, “We condemn Sunday’s process to elect a National Constituent Assembly. The process was carried out in the complete absence of electoral integrity, posing serious problems of legitimacy, legality, and procedure. The measures taken by the government to prevent freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and the right to peaceful demonstrations contravene the democratic values of plurality and the democratic and participatory clauses protected in the Venezuelan constitution.”

Kane blamed the violence entirely on the political opposition, saying it was “engaged in acts of terror” and calling the government response “restrained.” He accused the media of spreading a false narrative about Maduro wanting to be a dictator.

I can understand the allure that figures like Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez have for idealistic people who would like to see the world become more fair and just. The problem is that the cascading series of laws, rules and regulations necessary to enforce that fairness inevitably meet opposition from not only sectors of society that stand to lose but also from the very ones who are meant to be lifted up. More critically, as we see in Venezuela, the burden of government control invariably translates into bad economics and a lower standard of living, which mostly afflicts the less well off. The standard ideological response is to blame a colonial past and poverty. The problem for that excuse in Venezuela’s case is that the country is blessed with oil wealth that has been controlled by its own government. Apologists are left to mutter about a period of low oil prices.

Less understandable is why many, though by no means all, erstwhile admirers and defenders of Chávez and Maduro are so stubborn about conceding they made a mistake with their earlier praise. No one likes to advertise the fact they were wrong about something. That is only human nature. Still, it looks even worse to appear more concerned about your own ego than about people dying in the streets and about families suffering from economic deprivation for no good reason.

My guess is that the Corbyns of the world, along with the young starry-eyed idealists in the political trenches, will come around to condemning what’s happening in Venezuela—once they have found a way to rationalize an explanation that has nothing at all to do with the government-directed economic policies they themselves espouse.