Liam Hehir writes:
The Parliament of the European Union has recognised social democrat Juan Guaidó as the interim president of Venezuela, in accordance with the country’s constitution. In doing so, it joins a number of individual European states as well as most of Venezuela’s neighbouring countries. This should make it harder for New Zealanders to dismiss what’s happening in that benighted country as a “yankee” coup. Hatred of Donald Trump really ought not to excuse toleration for the actual tyranny of Nicholas Maduro, who has assumed dictatorship over the country.
Chris Trotter, a veteran commentator from the Left, has a long piece out that kind of defends the Maduro government, while admitting some mistakes. He argues that you can’t blame nationalisations for the disintegration of the country since the sector was first nationalised 40 years ago.
This half-hearted talking point, which has made the rounds on social media, flies in the face of the recorded facts of what has happened in Venezuela. Here is a list of what Chavez did to business in his country up until 2012, when things started to fall apart. By 2015, more than 1,200 private firms had been seized. There is a reason why Venezuela languishes near Cuba, North Korea and Zimbabwe in most indexes of economic freedom.
So what’s caused the collapse? Trotter lays the blame at the shrinking oil prices which have damaged but not destroyed other oil dependent countries, conspiracies by internal saboteurs and, of course, the evil United States and its wicked sanctions.
Ken Livingtone, a former UK Labour MP and mayor of London, also blames the US and appeared on the BBC to defend the Maduro regime. He spoke for many New Zealand defenders of “21st Century Socialism” when, on the BBC, he laid the blame for the catastrophe on US sanctions. And like those New Zealanders, he couldn’t name the sanctions in question.
When it was pointed out that sanctions against Venezuelan oil were only imposed very recently, he pointed to other, old sanctions. It was pointed out that the first US sanctions levied against the country were imposed by Barack Obama in 2015. This was well after Venezuela had started to disintegrate and, in any event, only targeted regime leaders.
“Red Ken” had no answer to this, unsurprisingly. In the end, he had to fall back on a claim to have been briefed by the regime’s ambassador in London, who blamed the United States. Naturally.
It would all be rather funny but for the scale of the human misery on display. The economic policies of Chavismo has created a refugee crisis unlike any other in the Western Hemisphere. Children are dying of hunger in one of the most resource-rich countries in the world. The fact that no Green Party MPs aren’t really interested in it doesn’t mean it isn’t so.
Thus far, the New Zealand government has held out against the tide of liberal nations recognising Guaidó’s government (or, at least, calling for new elections). This passive support for Maduro has been justified on a principle of non-interference with the domestic politics of other countries. As with all principles, adherence to this “prime directive” seems to be somewhat selective.
Guaidó has called for humanitarian aid to relieve the suffering of his compatriots. The regime refuses to allow aid in. Which side sounds like it has the best interests of a suffering people at heart?
Whether we recognise his administration or not, New Zealand should respond to Guaidó’s call to alms. As I pointed out last week, the country has made a lot of money out of selling milk powder to Venezuela in the recent past. Quite apart from your stance on the politics of the situation, it is right and just that we come to their aid in their hour of darkness.