Chris Williamson is British Labour shadow minister for fire services and MP for Derby North.
The silly season is well and truly in full swing with Britain’s big media obsessing about Venezuela and using it as another proxy war against Jeremy Corbyn.
The Tories have been fanning the flames and a handful of New Labour diehards have jumped onto the bandwagon to demand that the Labour leader condemn Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
Jeremy is on record supporting the Bolivarian revolution that started with the election of Hugo Chavez in 1998. The Chavez administration secured colossal improvements in living standards in the intervening years up to his untimely death on March 5 2013.
Oil revenues were used as a solidarity tool to address the hideous inequality that afflicted the country after years of neoliberal fundamentalism.
This saw a massive investment programme in healthcare, housing and free education, enabling poor Venezuelans to access decent housing, healthcare, medicines and subsidised food for those in need.
It also resulted in large numbers of jobs being created in the public sector, giving people the dignity of work in secure employment.
Consequently, poverty was slashed, infant mortality was substantially reduced and, according to Unesco, Venezuela eliminated illiteracy in 2005.
This spending on education empowered people and facilitated grassroots political participation.
Jeremy was therefore completely correct to commend the achievements in Venezuela. But the proxy-warmongers have seized the opportunity to use Venezuela’s current travails to express faux outrage about the “regime.”
The collapse in the price of oil has inevitably affected Venezuela’s economy. This has been made worse by economic sabotage, by the country’s elites, to create shortages in the shops, widespread violent street protests and external interference by the US.
The US Department of State openly budgets to spend millions of dollars every year to support right-wing opposition forces in Venezuela. Even former president Barack Obama signed an executive order declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to the national security of the US, which is utterly absurd.
It is the combination of these factors together with alleged cronyism, corruption and inefficiency that has made the job of Maduro’s government almost impossible since Chavez died.
The US has a long history of seeking regime change in Latin America. Thousands of declassified CIA documents under Bill Clinton revealed that the CIA constructed and supported “Operation Condor” to overthrow democratically elected leftist governments via bloody coups in what the US patronisingly describes as its “backyard.”
The US installed repugnant right-wing military dictatorships that systematically exterminated tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of leftist opponents.
Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay all had their governments overthrown with the help of the CIA, not to mention US involvement in Nicaragua.
Operation Condor began in Chile, with the CIA-backed 1973 coup against Salvador Allende.
The tactics deployed against Allende are chillingly similar to those being employed in Venezuela today. Richard Nixon said he wanted to “make the economy [in Chile] scream.”
The economic disruption preceded the military coup led by Augusto Pinochet, who imposed a repressive regime that routinely tortured and murdered political opponents.
Chavez himself was subject to a coup attempt in 2002, but a popular uprising forced the conspirators out and Chavez was reinstated within two days.
But none of this context is given by the British media, nor the Tories who are ideologically linked to the neoliberal agenda of Venezuela’s elites.
It is perhaps understandable that Labour’s political enemies are using Venezuela’s difficulties to make mischief, but it is frustrating to see the dwindling band of New Labour neocons doing likewise. They conveniently ignore the history and the extreme violence of the right-wing opposition groups.
Thanks to the hysterical media hyperbole, casual observers could be forgiven for thinking that Venezuela is in the grip of a totalitarian despot.
Yet it is a highly democratic country whose elections have been observed by former US president Jimmy Carter. He said: “As a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say that the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”
I wonder what those who are attacking Venezuela would say if similar violent street protests were taking place in Britain?
We know what one Tory MP, Alan Duncan, thinks. In 2008 he said that people who were peacefully protesting outside Parliament against the planned expansion of Heathrow were “bloody well lucky not to be shot or gassed.”
Yet as far as Duncan and co are concerned, the extremely violent street protests in Venezuela are acceptable and it is the Venezuelan government that should be condemned for holding a Constituent Assembly election.
Nicolas Maduro called the election, which is provided for in the country’s constitution, in an attempt to bring an end to the bloodshed on the streets and reconcile the country.
The Assembly’s job is to amend the country’s constitution, as was done in 1999 using the same process. There was nothing to stop the right-wing opposition contesting the election, but they chose to boycott it and call more demonstrations.
Of course, the truth is the US would dearly love its petroleum corporations to gain control of Venezuela’s oil reserves, which are the largest in the world. That is the main reason why they want a compliant government in charge.
Having said all that, Venezuela is not a perfect democracy. But far from enhancing democracy, imposing sanctions and seeking to isolate the country could destroy it and herald in another brutal dictatorship, which would be disastrous for the poor in Venezuela.
That is why we should not only be calling for human rights to be upheld by Nicolas Maduro’s administration, we must also call on the right-wing opposition to do likewise.
We should also demand that the US stops interfering in Venezuela’s affairs to bring about regime change and call on them to help facilitate reconciliation instead.
This article was originally in the Morning Star: https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-9b9f-We-mustnt-back-another-US-led-regime-change-in-Latin-America