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World 11/08/2017

From Podemos to Joe Kennedy, the global left fell for Chavismo’s false promises

It was all too easy to rally behind the flag and ignore obvious problems with the Venezuelan regime

Once upon a time there was a 21st-century Robin Hood who praised the virtues of 21st-century Marxism, sucked from Fidel Castro himself.

He started all sorts of lavish social programmes offered as redeeming the social debt, deuda social, whatever that may have meant.

The world Left, never quite recovered from the fall of the Berlin Wall, finally found someone who would prove that they had been right all along, that socialism’s failure was due to bad application, not questionable principles. They all flocked to Caracas.

There was Ignacio Ramonet editor at Le Monde Diplomatique, the monthly grande dame that turned hagiographic on Chavez. Ramonet would even end up writing Chavez biographies. There was the Foro de Sao Paulo, the network of Latin American leftist parties, who never missed the opportunity to hold meetings in Venezuela, wildly cheering any utterance from Chavez at suspiciously well-organised rallies; in Caracas or elsewhere for that matter.

The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, loved to receive subsidies for London transport in exchange for Chavista knowhow that never knew to begin with. Even Joe Kennedy gladly took heating oil for his Massachusetts winter heating programmes from a country whose standard of living was several steps below that of New Englanders. And let’s not get into Spain’s Podemos, which cannot dig itself out of the scandals surrounding them suggesting Chavez stumped up for their seed funding.

Alas, all of this popularity, all this love was bestowed on a leader who spread around money that did not belong to him, courtesy of the highest oil prices in years.  None of these fans wanted to notice what we already knew in Venezuela. Chavez was expropriating right and left. Chavez was not leading an infrastructure development programme. Chavez was favouring “cheap” imports over local production. The more oil money flowed in Venezuelan coffers, the less Venezuela produced. Nobody paid attention to the environmental disaster that was falling on Venezuela.

The left, so keen on migrants in Europe and North America, failed to notice that under Chavez Venezuela, an immigration country, became an emigration country. Oh, sure, the disgruntled could leave, just as Fidel chased them away early in Cuba. On 16 July over 700.000 Venezuelan overseas did cast a ballot in widely spread improvised voting centers all around the world, suggesting at least 2 million Venezuelans have left the country in a decade and a half. We will need them to rebuild the country, if they will ever be willing to come back.

It is true that once Chavez was dead some of them kept their distance from his appointed heir, Nicolas Maduro. As Maduro slowly turned a regime into a dictatorship we never heard much criticism. Silence was the norm, through an occasional burst of support could not be repressed, like Melanchon at the European Parliament.

But now that Venezuela is a certifiable dictatorship, with official lies, repression murders, torture, hunger, dead media, lack of basic medical care, and more, if we hear anything is that it is all the fault of the fall of oil prices, of a conspiracy from the US, sabotage and what not. That the social programmes have proven to be unviable outside a system where oil costs 150 a barrel has not registered. That these programmes were not sustainable and for all practical purposes have been gathered together into a single food distribution program, “CLAP”, is not bothering the friendly Left. That CLAP does not even work well, that it fails to feed the masses depending on it, and is used to blackmail the electorate is conveniently ignored.

That a cornered regime decided to use an illegitimate and fraudulent “constitutional assembly” to neutralise once and for all an opposition that is now largely favored by the suffering electorate is judged democratic. This most flawed convocation to a deeply undemocratic  constituent assembly was doubled with the most incredible electoral fraud in recent Latin American history. Yet it is considered a perfectly democratic election by United Left in Spain, invited as observers in Venezuela on 30 July.

Of course, nobody takes the Ramonets of this world seriously. Joe Kennedy retired but he seems to be finally breaking up with Chavismo, like too few others here and there.

But Melanchon remains adamant in his refusal to criticise the latest rising star in the world dictatorships league.  Not a peep from Sanders. In the UK Jeremy Corbyn, who has a real shot at office someday cannot overcome his past support and still has to be dragged out for luke warm “objective” balanced condemnations. And then there's Spain…..

Venezuela allows the left to show its true colors. It seems that human rights and democracy are not its favoured hues.

Daniel Duquenal is editor of Venezuela News and Views