The left in the West is split over the Venezuelan government, and Venezuelans are on their own
UPDATE 28 June 2017 - The helicopter action by a group of military and civilian officials can be read twofold: firstly, as journalists in Caracas tell us, "not all armed forces are corrupt and entangled with power." Secondly, the act of the group “against the paramilitary gangs but not against the Armed Forces" that calls for "Maduro to resign”, will conceal on the media the assault, even physical on MPs, yesterday by police groups in the building of the Parliament (won by the opposition in elections Maduro lost in 2015). The leader of the helicopter action said to have “two options”: to “be judged in the future by their own conscience” or "liberating the people from this corrupt government" today. He indicated Article 350 of the Constitution, which provides the option of disregarding a government that violates the Constitution.
- Tuesday, 27 June 2017
The struggle for democracy in Venezuela, which should be a progressive cause, gets little support because the public opinion keeps seeing the regime Chávez founded through an ideological lens.
Why is the world not stepping up for a nation undergoing an economic, political and moral crisis is told by the numbers even before opinions? Partly this is because in the West an important political camp that one could define the "radical left" keeps looking at the label rather than at the content.
Venezuela has become a good terrain where to perpetuate the still unresolved evolution of the ideological developments that followed the Fall of the Wall, as if it were Chile in the ’70s.
The Bolivarian revolution was welcomed by a part of the public of the whole world that recalled vividly the human and political misery Latin America had endured during many decades of caudillos and military governments expressed by hyper-liberal elites backed by the United States.
The news flow, though, is showing us today an economy on its knees, with no industries left and no currency for imports, where people lose weight — literally — due to food shortages, and those who criticize or protest are repressed by military forces loyal to a government, that of Nicolás Maduro, whose approval rate hovers just over 20%.
Those in the West who support him explain this with an "American empire" boycott, as if Venezuela were Cuba, and often with falling oil prices.
Admitting that oil prices are a problem means, however, acknowledging a first major failure of Chávez's economic project: it was his choice to move to an oil mono-producing economy killing all other industries. In addition, as in the collapse of the German Democratic Republic, a decisive factor was a subsidies system — for gas, food, housing and even household appliances — which squeezed local production until it became unproductive, and forced the Treasury to drain the state oil company Pdvsa.
"Chavez found in socialism an ideological foundation to justify the Bolivarian process in history, but when the time came to start making changes, he made neither the structural ones, nor what was needed to advance the country by industrializing it": quoted here is not the IMF or some Wall Street firm, but Venezuelan Marxist economist Manuel Sutherland, who began criticizing Chávez's economic choices, like most other Venezuelan economists, when the barrel of oil lingered along the $100 handle. "Instead of building more factories and propping up agriculture, [the government] ignored capital outflows and fraud, and brutally looted oil revenues."
A researcher at the Labor Research Center, Sutherland said: "Nobody knows how much we owe China, Russia, Brazil, Japan... nor any of the thousands of companies that are asking for compensation for fake goods, expropriations.... This is a complete disaster."
China and Russia, two countries that do not shine for their freedoms and democracy, have so far been the "great friends of the Venezuelan people" — and generous in exchange for oil. The fact that the pragmatic Chinese government has been avoiding in the past few weeks to take sides with Maduro, when not necessary to secure the payback of its gigantic credit, believed to be somewhere between $53 and $65 billion, should cast some doubt on the end outcome of the Chavista economic system and on the understanding of those who have and are managing it: two years ago, the 270,000 barrels shipped daily to China paid off in a year about $8 billion of the debt, now it is just half that number.
With Russia, the other "friend nation" (both nations engaged a year ago in a navy exercise against a possible "US threat to Venezuela"), Venezuela just defaulted on a $2.5 billion loan repayment. The friendship notwithstanding, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zajarova recently said that Venezuela’s domestic circumstances "are not a threat to regional peace and security" — in other words, they may just disengage.
One of the dramas unfolding in Venezuela about which one left does not touch upon when praising a success of Chavismo against poverty is hunger. UNICEF ranks Venezuela 116 for child mortality, while child malnutrition is as high as 48% in some areas according to a Caritas report.
One can doubt about Caritas’ objectiveness, but the Church does not, the same way it believes what the Venezuelan archbishops, who Francesco recently met, are telling and prompted the Vatican to change its stance on Venezuela.
The Vatican had so far been in favor of a "dialogue", a concept that Maduro astutely used to share responsibilities between the government and the opposition. José Luis Zapatero has been the leading personality fostering a "dialogue", the attempt of which bought Maduro another two years in power, forget him cancelling a referendum and the regional elections, and quashing the functions of Parliament.
The advocates of a dialogue chose to ignore the conditions set by the other party: establishing a humanitarian corridor, acknowledging the Parliament's decisions, releasing political prisoners and resuming the electoral calendar. Being that the government ignored all of them, "there is no possibility of dialogue," the Archbishops told the Pope.
Certain European parties, such as M5S in Italy and Podemos in Spain, favor a "dialogue" with no conditions as well. In Germany, so did Die Linke, but now, after years of unconditional stepping up for Chavismo, the Linke is holding the Maduro government accountable for "negative developments" and "widespread corruption chiefly among the military."
Some outlets that criticize the rest of the press for being acquiescent, like Il Fatto Quotidiano in Italy, and boast the accuracy of their own reporting, forget entirely mentioning the 376 press people assaulted only since March 31, according to their union, including the a woman journalist beaten and kicked by the police. French nominee Jean-Luc Mélenchon called Venezuela a source of inspiration, that is, before demanding the release of two French journalists arrested while doing their job.
For Il Manifesto, the correct "leftist" approach is that of the controversial Belgian Marxist priest François Houtart, who urged "the Venezuelan government to avoid making mistakes in order not to fuel the denigration campaigns lead on most national and international media ...." The Manifesto is thus including among the "denigrating” outlets the French daily Libération and the German Tageszeitung, which did not feel the need for self-censorship or not reporting on the government abusing power justified with a "conflict" between socialists and "the right". The "right" long fled Venezuela, along with many military Chavistas, who brought their money and family abroad — also to the US.
For some devoted Maduro fans, like the Spanish MEP Javier Couso or FQ’s expert Fabio Marcelli, the cracks in the very Chavista establishment, both military and civilian, should suffice to show them that there is no glorious struggle of the people "against the empire" going on in Venezuela. The most prominent and staunch Chavista peeling away is General Prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Díaz, who has been very vocal against a constitutional assembly and the annulment of the Parliament's powers ruled by Maduro, and who yesterday stated that Venezuela “is not Rule of Law, but a police state.” Ortega is just one of many, and the list gets longer each day.
While even both the Defense Minister and the Director of the National Police, one of the forces that most heavily repressed and killed since the popular demonstrations began in April, admitted (though in their self-interest) that "the opposition is peaceful" and condemned "the State paramilitaries" for an excessive use of force, Marcelli on FQ reports as a "significant success" the "dismantling of armed groups": he may not know that it is the government that has at its disposal as many as six "armies", including a 100,000 civilians militia that Maduro wants to expand to 500,000, and that their abuses worsened after his decision, the Zamora Plan, to allow joint actions between these armed civilians and the military, and to have civilians judged in military courts (all of it unconstitutional).
"The tragic contrast between Venezuela as described by authorities [and relayed slavishly by some outlets and representatives of one Western left], and the one we live in is so strong that it is difficult to describe it," said Marcos Gomez, director of Amnesty International (AI) Venezuela — but bear in mind that Couso and Marcelli consider AI, along with Human Rights Watch, as biased.
Famous political figures who applauded Chavismo are not speaking out these days, like Naomi Klein in Canada, while others, like Bernie Sanders in the US, avoided the topic altogether.
There is (at last) rich reporting on the struggle of the opposition, that is 80% of the Venezuelans, but not much taking of stances — except on the right. To eschew going in-depth on events in Venezuela, means providing the right with a case on a topic that should be of progressives, as well as turning ones back on the fate of a vast majority of Venezuelans.
Yet, for whom criticism should only come “from the left", there is no lack of opinions. Here is that of Marxist economist Sutherland: "This is the worst structural crisis in our history, worse than that at the time of Carlos Andrés Pérez (the president against whom Chávez attempted a coup d'état, EN)... The problem is that today the Venezuelan left has no horizon, and is busy only justifying what happens. It is microscopic, draws in its bureaucracy and claims its ignorance as virtue. We need brutal self-criticism, because it is unbelievable that we on the left spent 17 years thinking about the idea of a party, and today have nothing.”