Hugo Chavez’ revolutionary politics were founded on two very simple tenets:
1) People ought not to be starving in dreadful slums in the world’s most oil rich state
2) The CIA ought not to control Venezuela
Over the years, Chavez racked up real achievements in improving living standards for the poor and in providing health and education facilities. He was widely popular and both he and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, also racked up very genuine election victories. Maduro remains the democratically elected President.
But the dream went sour. In particular it fell foul of the tendency of centrally planned economies to fail to get the commodities people want onto shop shelves, and to the corruption that goes with centralisation. The latter was certainly not worse than the right wing corruption it replaced, but that does not diminish its existence.
Every revolution will always displace an existing elite who are by definition the best educated and most articulate section of the population, with most access to resources including media – and to CIA secret backing, which has continued throughout at an increasing rate. Chavez did not solve this problem in the way Robespierre, Stalin, Trotsky or Mao would have done. He embraced democracy, let them be – and largely left their private offshore billions, and thus their power, untouched.
Inevitably the day came when economic and administrative failings cracked the solidity of support from the poor for the revolution. The right then stepped up their opposition with a campaign led by corrupt billionaires, which the western media has failed to acknowledge has been throughout murderously violent.
The problem with revolutionary millenarianism is that its failure to achieve utopia is viewed as disaster by its proponents. Maduro ought to have accepted that it is the nature of life that political tides ebb and flow, ceded power to the opposition gains in parliament, maintained the principles of democracy, and waited for the tide to turn back his way – taking the risk that the CIA might not give him the chance. Instead he has resorted to a constitutional fix which dilutes democracy, a precedent which will delight the right who in the long term have most to fear from the populace. Given the extreme violence of the opposition, I am less inclined to view arrests as unquestionably a straightforward human rights matter, than are some pro-western alleged human rights groups. But that Maduro has stepped off the democratic path I fear is true. He has, bluntly, gone wrong, however difficult the circumstances. I condemn both the departures from human rights best practice and the attempt to use a part indirectly elected body to subvert the elected parliament.
But, even today, Venezuela is still vastly more of a democracy than Saudi Arabia, and a far greater respecter of human rights than Israel in its dreadful repression of the Palestinians. Yet support for Israel and for Saudi Arabia are keystones of the foreign policy of those who today are incessant in their demands that we on the “left” condemn Venezuela. The BBC has given massively more news coverage to human rights abuse in Venezuela this last month than in a score of much worse countries I could name – than a score put together.
Human rights abuse should be condemned everywhere. But it only hits the headlines when practised by a country which is on the wrong side of the neo-con agenda.