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The Caracas left and British foreign policy

By GARY KENT 7/2/2019
Venezuela is the latest foreign policy fault line on the British left with vehement denunciations of imperialism that belittle or refuse democratic critiques of the Caudillo in Caracas. 

Some left-wing factions have often supported distasteful forces such as Cuba and the IRA and, in some cases, taken money from Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi but they were a small minority. It matters much more now because such forces are far more influential in and around the opposition Labour Party, not least on social media, and could affect future foreign policy under a Labour Government. Their success would sustain the anti-war movement that sought to stop the invasion of Iraq and also opposed the use of British airpower to help the Kurds fight Daesh.

More significantly many Labour leaders hail from that tradition and internal critics of a soft touch on the Maduro regime in Venezuela worry that this pollutes popular perceptions of Labour. The Conservatives are obviously not shy in saying that support for Bolivarian socialism and its basket-case economy prefigures Labour in government.

Latin American struggles run deep in the wider left-wing firmament. Many leftists salute Salvador Allende, the Chilean Prime Minister whose government did much to lift living standards against domestic and American hostility. President Nixon made the Chilean economy scream and encouraged a military coup by General Pinochet. Allende's palace was attacked by Chilean jets on 9/11 (1973) and he was murdered or committed suicide. Football stadiums became holding pens for leftists many of whom were tortured and executed. 

It was a formative experience for many in the 1970s including me and Jeremy Corbyn whose second wife was Chilean. One of Corbyn's mentors, Ralph Miliband, the father of the Labour Leader before Corbyn, wrote a vital essay on the coup. Miliband described Allende as a noble figure who was "not a revolutionary who was also a parliamentary politician. He was a parliamentary politician who, remarkably enough, had genuine revolutionary tendencies." 

Neither Chavez nor Maduro remotely compares to Allende. I once saw Hugo Chavez talk in the Churchill Room in the Commons. Surrounded by fawning Labour MPs including Corbyn; Chavez delivered inane clichés from liberation theology and Marxism.

Repression and economic misery are the hallmarks of the regime. Venezuela’s neighbours have referred Maduro and his state to the International Criminal Court for 8,000 extrajudicial executions, 12,000 arbitrary arrests and 13,000 political prisoners. 

Venezuela's vast oil wealth included some redistribution to the poorest but was built on sand when oil prices collapsed and there were no productive alternatives. Inflation has rocketed to over one million percent with shortages of power, water, food and medicine that have forced a tenth of the population — 3 million people — to vote with their feet and flee to neighbouring countries. 

The cruel suffering of the Venezuelans affects other countries, thanks to the biggest movement of population ever in Latin America. And the crisis reaches Britain because, as Robert Halfon MP put it in the Commons, half of the cocaine on our streets comes via Venezuela where widespread corruption eases smuggling. 

Blinkered anti-imperialism ignores manifest injustice and repression and blames it all on America. Former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone is a case study in this idiocy. I once shared an office with him and wrote a monthly column on his first Mayoral term where I concluded that he was sometimes a decent social democratic leader but usually lost his marbles on foreign policy.

He recently claimed that American sanctions accounted for halving the economy of Venezuela. Pushed to be specific, he fumbled for facts and fell back on assertions of the Venezuelan Ambassador in London. He would say that, wouldn't he? 

Actually, oil output, which accounts for over 90 percent of state revenues, has halved thanks to inefficiency and produces about 1.3 million barrels per day (bpd) of which 400,000 bpd has been going to America with the rest repaying loans to Russia and China. Ken was simply Caracas.

All this has angered Labour MPs who supported Allende and whose predecessors backed social democrats against Stalinists - those killed or purged as one-party Soviet states were established in Eastern Europe after the Second World War, for instance.

Labour MP, Mike Gapes, a former Labour Party International Officer and former Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee recently lambasted Maduro and his defenders while the Conservative Sir Nicholas Soames MP, Churchill's grandson, rounded on "Poundland Lenins."

Gapes contrasted Venezuela's potential as one of the richest democratic countries in South America, with more oil than Saudi, an educated population and large areas of arable land, with its current mass poverty.

Gapes argues that the economic collapse is a direct result of the corrupt, incompetent, and kleptocratic Maduro regime. The opposition centre-left alliance won most seats in National Assembly elections in 2015. But Maduro ignored this, rigged his own tame Constituent Assembly, and is clinging to power after widely panned elections last year.

Most of the Lima Group of Latin American and many European countries say that Maduro is no longer the legitimate president and that President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido (a social democrat) is constitutionally entitled to say he is the interim President.

Maduro hypes the "gringo empire" as verging on another Vietnam to mobilise useful idiots overseas who see Venezuela as a replay of Iraq and ignore repression in anti-Yankee colours. 

Labour Leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has backed Chavez and Maduro in the past, has sparked controversy by tweeting that "The future of Venezuela is a matter for Venezuelans. [Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt's] call for more sanctions on Venezuela is wrong. We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else. There needs to be dialogue and a negotiated settlement to overcome the crisis."

There is no recognition of the illegitimacy and crimes of Maduro. I agree with the Corbyn tweet some time back that "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor." Corbyn is respected in Venezuela and could better use his influence.

Calling out Maduro is a moral imperative. The best solution is that the Generals dump Maduro, who has been offered an amnesty, and can fly to Cuba an hour away, and accept fresh elections that avoid civil war and help end the misery in Venezuela. Events move fast there but mass starvation in Caracas is likely to increase internal differences in the Labour Party and its public standing.

Gary Kent is the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.


pre-Boomer Marine brat | 7/2/2019
The column is a good one, and the moral imperative is as you state ... I would, though, quibble with "Salvador Allende, the Chilean Prime Minister whose government did much to lift living standards" ... Please allow me to state MOST vigorously that I believe you are getting your history of that period from ideological allies of the Bolivarian movement ... Just one fact - Eduardo Montalva, Allende's Socialist Party predecessor, wound up applauding the coup, calling Allende's three years "a carnival of madness" ... If you wish a fact-checked debate on the subject, I will rip the pro-Allende position to pieces.
AzadAzadi | 15/2/2019
The author is dancing around the core cause of Venezuelan crisis. The article is based on factious information and lacks facts. Starting with Chilean military coup and CIA role. Reports from Freedom of Information Act released several years ago clearly points to US hand in toppling of Allende’s government, appears the author more interested in attacking certain members of UK parliament than stating facts. Now the Venezuelan President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido has not denounced foreign intervention and his ties to Elliott Abrams, Trump's Venezuela envoy is a red flag on US intention in creating these crises. The US oil companies are not interested in better life for people of Venezuela. The economic crisis are created by CIA to destroy Venezuelan national oil company and replace it with Uncle Sam’s greedy oil companies. I am sure every reader can name ten corrupted, dictatorial regimes in the world. US only helps people get rid of tyranny and dictators in countries with oil. Mohammad Mosaddegh of Iran in 50’s is a good example ( again, please search released reports from Freedom of Information Act on Iran also read the book “All the Shah's Men” by Stephen Kinzer

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