I wonder what Jeremy Corbyn thinks of Maduro, the Venezuelan president. Both are about the same age, both sport facial hair and both are being widely and vigorously denounced.
Let’s take Maduro. He was an acolyte of Hugo Chavez, who was viewed with suspicion by the US and the West generally. We can’t be sure but I suspect this had something to do with his root-and-branch reform of the economic and social system in Venezuela.
When he became the President of Venezuela in 1998, Chavez got lucky. The price of oil world-wide was high and Venezuela had lots of it. So he used the money to launch a drive towards literacy and health among the most neglected sections of the population. He reduced poverty, virtually eliminated illiteracy and created a national system that gave free health care to everyone. He also made it clear that he was opposed to much of the US’s foreign policy.
The presidency is currently occupied by Nicolas Maduro, who was a disciple of Chavez. He was last elected in 2018, which isn’t that long ago. The day after his election, President Trump increased his trade blockade of Venezuela. That, along with the fall in oil price, has brought severe poverty back to a country that was deemed by the US to be too “socialist” in its policies – despite the fact that just 1% of Venezuela’s economy could be considered socialist.
As a result of the slump in oil prices and other factors, Venezuela is again struggling with hunger and deprivation. A Venezuelan politician named Juan Guaidó has declared himself the ‘interim president’ of Venezuela.
If you think that announcing yourself as “interim president” when you haven’t been voted into any such position is undemocratic, you’d be right. And coincidentally, who is Guaidó holding meetings with? Mike Pence, vice-president to Donald Trump, a president who is under suspicion of having behaved illegally during his campaign for US president.
There’s a tendency to believe in the wisdom of crowds, and the many countries and groups of states, including the EU, who have come out and denounced Morato and hailed Guaidó as legitimate president would lead you to assume that Morato should be relieved of his presidential powers and these handed to Guaidó. But only last year, the wisdom of the Venezuelan people elected Morato as their president. So aren’t Guaidó’s claim to be the president a teensy bit anti-democratic?
At the time of writing, clashes between Venezuelans bringing food into Venezuela and the Venezuelan armed forces have left four people dead. Those bringing this food say they are doing so because the people of Venezuela are dying of starvation. Those supporting Maduro claim that the food convoy is an attempt to enter Venezuela and install Guaidó in Morato’s place. Who is telling the truth?
If we’re honest, we’ll admit that we know what we do only as it is filtered through the lens of the US and western countries. When you see BBC newsreaders casting Maduro as the obvious villain and charismatic Guaidó as the charismatic saviour, it’s difficult not to agree. Surely all these people can’ t be wrong?
Well, maybe they aren’t wrong – maybe Maduro is a tyrant who should be removed. But we would do well to remember that because we’re told it by the various official sources, it ain’t necessarily so. Remember the weapons of mass destruction that so concerned Tony Blair, he insisted on taking his country to war? Or the promises of £350 million per week for the NHS? Or the many lies too numerous to list that President Trump has lisped?
Maduro may be a villain, but he was the acolyte to Chavez, who clearly was a hero for many Venezuelan people. He also has a point when he argues that the US and its proxies should keep out of Venezuela and let that country address its problems without foreign interference.
But all that would be to gloss over one particular word, a word with just three letters but of enormous importance, especially to the US. I’m talking O-I-L. Do you think Mike Pence and his master Donald Trump would be so insistent on regime change if Venezuela was known for its huge stocks of bananas rather than oil?