Why won't Jeremy Corbyn talk about what's happening in Venezuela?

Corbyn should make an amendment to his previous declaration that Chavez’s Venezuela was ‘an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe’

Sean O'Grady
Thursday 03 August 2017 17:15 BST
Angry clashes have broken out in Caracas, Venezuela, where a revolution has turned into a dictatorship
Angry clashes have broken out in Caracas, Venezuela, where a revolution has turned into a dictatorship (Reuters)

I can perfectly well understand why Jeremy Corbyn, who seems to me to be a rather proud and stubborn man, is reluctant to dance every time the Murdoch press or the Daily Mail tells him to. He owes them nothing, and he is shrewd enough to know the games they play.

So when they call on him to condemn what’s happening in Venezuela in the name of socialism, he goes all Zen – ignores them and hopes the whole thing will go away.

Well, of course it won’t, and it is difficult to exaggerate the scale of the political and economic crisis that the benighted country is living through. There’s talk of civil war. If this were some tin pot American-sponsored dictatorship, Corbyn and Emily Thornberry would be firing off letters to No 10 demanding sanctions and an international arrest warrant on the bastard persecuting his own people.

Not President Maduro in plucky Venezuela though, with the arbitrary arrest of opposition politicians, police abuse, sub-human prison conditions and immunity for the security forces. No, to Corbyn, none of that seems to matter because Maduro told Donald Trump and the Yankees to “go home”.

Corbyn, please listen. Democracy, such as it is after the predations of the Chavez-Maduro years, is being extinguished. The people are being driven into mass poverty. Some reports say they’re eating their pets in Venezuela, so bad are the food shortages. That has the ring of exaggeration to it, but there are apparently well-sourced accounts of livestock being looted from the zoo in Caracas for meat – a horse, some sheep, a Vietnamese potbellied pig, and even tapirs.

The great socialist experiment in Venezuela, which Labour admires so much, hasn’t delivered equality except in the sense that everyone – apart from the elite – goes hungry. As someone once said, all animals are equal but some are more equal than others (or tastier).

True to form, Ken Livingstone has filled the vacuum his leader has allowed to develop with some analysis of his own. Reflecting on the decline in Venezuela’s fortunes, Livingstone opined on Talk Radio: “One of the things that Chavez did when he came to power; he didn’t kill all the oligarchs. There were about 200 families who controlled about 80 per cent of the wealth in Venezuela.

“He allowed them to live, to carry on. I suspect a lot of them are using their power and control over imports and exports to make it difficult and to undermine Maduro.”

So now we know what went wrong and who to blame: the capitalists, who should have been put up against a wall, etc. In such circumstances, it would be timely for Corbyn, who is not be as bloodthirsty as his comrade, to suggest an amendment to his previous declaration that Chavez’s Venezuela was “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.

What’s the point of all this Corbyn-baiting? For me, it isn't good sport, and I don’t actually relish it. Neither do I think that Corbyn is himself set on abolishing parliamentary democracy in the UK and turning the economy so bad that we’ll all be heading down to the local zoo to see what might work well in a casserole, or contemplate chucking the pet hamsters on the barbie.

What I seriously wonder is why Corbyn and so many of his clever, well-educated allies seem to work under a political philosophy of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend”, which has always been a dodgy idea.

More particularly, in their case, it seems an iron rule that if some murderous monster somewhere is opposed by the United States or by British Tories or Blairites, then they must, ipso facto, be ok and worth supporting. That is to say, worth supporting no matter how awful their regime is.

And, contrariwise, if the US has a close and valuable ally, as in the case of Israel, then they must necessarily attack the Americans’ ally, which I think is half of the reason they have got themselves into such a disgraceful mess about the Middle East and anti-Semitism. This can be the only explanation for some choice examples of Corbynite hypocrisy.

Opposition protesters clash with security forces in Venezuela

Let’s take Castro, late dictator of Cuba. This was a man who, among other crimes, locked up journalists. Corbyn, a member of the National Union of Journalists, may have had this sort of thing in mind when he added the rider “for all his flaws” when he praised Fidel as a great fighter for social justice. In other words, it’s ok to end freedom of speech and shut newspapers because Cuba had some damn good free dentistry – as if the Cubans had to choose between fillings and filings.

By the way, the “for all his flaws” remark led to some memorable Twitter parodies – such as the spoof one for the passing of Bond villain Enst Stavro Blofeld, subject to such terrible harassment by the British and US secret services; “For all his flaws, his monorail and volcano engineering projects were great achievements. A larger-than-life leader”.

Still, Corbyn was less effusive than his shadow cabinet colleague Richard Burgon, who judged of the critics of Havana’s butcher: “These politicians and pundits should be thankful they’ve never been attacked for their human rights record whilst the world's greatest superpower detains and tortures people on their territory against their will in a detention camp on illegally occupied land.”

To which one can only remind the shadow Secretary of State for Justice (!) that two wrongs don’t make a right.

Corbyn's media man, Seumas Milne, also has a long and eccentric track record in standing up for chaps who are so weak and vulnerable they need all the help they can get.

Here he is on Robert Mugabe, well after his genocide in Matabeleland and his dismantling of the free press, politics and judiciary, in 2002: “It is impossible to sustain the case that Zimbabwe has been singled out for international denunciation by the British government because of political violence, intimidation or restrictions on democratic freedoms, alarming as they are.

“Such factors are common to other African states supported by Britain such as Kenya and Zambia (where an election was rigged earlier this year) ...There are only two possible explanations for Britain's role. One is a racist concern for the privileged white minority. The other is that, unlike Zambia and Kenya, Mugabe is no longer playing ball with the west’s neo-liberal agenda and talking – credibly or not – of taking over private businesses and a return to socialism.”

Nearly right, eh Seumas?

Mugabe wasn’t alone in having the Milne protective cloak thrown across him. So, unbelievably, did Slobodan Milosevic. The Hague, Milne advised in 2001, was not the place to try Milosevic for war crimes, because the UN tribunal was the “baby” of the US, and “works intimately with the FBI and Nato – rather than the UN – while relying heavily on US government, foundation and corporate funding, in contradiction of its own charter”.

So that’s that lot trashed then. It would have been “far better for the future of Yugoslavia if such evidence had been tested in a Belgrade court”. Course it would.

As I say, the more you wade waist deep in these leftist cuttings of shame, the more impressed one becomes by the sheer intellectual poverty on display. Britain doesn’t matter much in the world, in or out of the EU, and British foreign policy therefore doesn't matter much either.

But for our own self-respect, do we really want the guys who stood up for Castro, Mugabe, Chavez, Maduro, Milosevic and (in the odd case) Mao, Stalin and Kim Jong-il, and stood up for them simply because the Tories, Blair and the Yanks didn’t like them, to be Britain’s conscience?

Not in my name.

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