Are lost causes the only ones worth fighting for? Cristina Fernández de Kirchner and her adherents evidently believe they are. Had they thought otherwise, they would be trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the heavy-handed incompetents who have transformed Venezuela, a country sitting on an ocean of oil which not that long ago was among the most prosperous of Latin America, into a poverty-stricken wasteland whose rulers have driven away as many people as have the murderous sectarian gangs which are fighting one another in Syria.
However, instead of washing their hands off an increasingly ugly business, the Kirchnerites are doing their best to convince the world that Nicolás Maduro and the by all accounts extraordinarily corrupt generals who keep him in office are doing a marvellous job and that any human rights abuses that may occur under their watch should be blamed on the villainous Yankee imperialists.
For Alberto Fernández, his senior partner’s devotion to Maduro spells trouble. Along with Foreign Minister Felipe Solá and other relatively sane members of his government, he does not want Argentina to be regarded as the natural ally of a regime which is almost universally despised. He also seems to understand that attempts to defend the appalling behaviour of Venezuela’s dictatorial rulers – as described in the report drawn up by a human rights commission under the former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist with impeccable progressive credentials – are making nonsense of Argentina’s much-touted commitment to the defence of human rights whenever they are under threat.
Unfortunately for those who agree with Alberto on this, the most powerful faction of the coalition of which he is the figurehead includes fervent admirers of the late Hugo Chávez and his friends in Cuba. Like many others, the Kirchnerites put their own ideological hang-ups first and human rights a long way second.
For them, as it was for Vladimir Lenin, everything depends on who does what to whom. As far as they are concerned, no mercy should be shown to members of the Armed Forces suspected of making a practice of torturing and killing people presumably in league with the Montoneros and other similarly violent groups, but if their own ideological soul-mates do much the same to anyone who gets in their way, they deserve to be rewarded for their heroism as, indeed, have been many of the terrorists who took on the military back in the 1970s.
It might be thought that such blatant double standards would have discredited many organisations set up by leftists with unsavoury connections for the alleged purpose of defending human rights, but in Argentina and many other countries this has not happened to any great extent. While those now extremely old Nazi criminals who remain alive are still being hunted down, their Communist equivalents never had much to worry about. On the contrary, though after the fall of the Soviet Union many leftists who had turned a blind eye to the horrendous abuses regularly being perpetrated in Central and Eastern Europe suddenly came to the conclusion that human rights really did matter, instead of demanding that the worst of their erstwhile comrades be put on trial they began gleefully to berate mild-mannered democratic governments for tolerating minor misdemeanours and therefore not living up to their own purported principles. For years most people tamely put up with such individuals, but of late the climate has begun to change. With luck, the row over Venezuela which is currently splitting the Peronist government will help cure the country’s human-rights movement of the political diseases that have long afflicted it.
At first sight, problems involving human rights are fairly straightforward: mistreating people, let alone killing them, is wrong. But things are not that simple. If using homicidal force to settle political conflicts is always bad, how can you justify the killing of millions, with entire cities getting incinerated, by the Allies in World War II? Because, one can say, surrendering to the Nazis and the Japanese imperialists would have had far worse consequences for far more men, women and children. That may seem reasonable, but a similar line of thought must have passed through the mind of the well-known and highly-respected Communist historian Eric Hobsbawm who, when asked by an interviewer whether he thought “the loss of 15, 20 million people would have been justified” if “the radiant tomorrow” promised by Stalin had actually been created, calmly replied “yes.”
Though many criticised with appropriate harshness Hobsbawm’s cavalier willingness to write off the huge numbers of victims of Communist savagery and overlook the near certainty that such systematic cruelty did nothing at all to help Stalin and company to reach what they said were their objectives, he did have a point. In retrospect, the mass slaughter perpetrated by totalitarian movements like Communism and Nazism looks especially monstrous because it failed to bring about anything of lasting value.
Much the same can be said about the Chavist and Castroite revolutions which excited large numbers of bright Latin Americans who dreamed of replacing an irksome status quo with something radically different which, they assumed, was bound to be far better. After watching Chávez, the Castro brothers and their accomplices ruin the lives of all those Venezuelans and Cubans who were unable to escape on time apart from a small handful of loyalists of the kind who find dictatorship very much to their liking and discovering to their chagrin that reshaping societies would be far harder than most of them had imagined, many leftists made defending the revolutionary idea an end in itself.
Like religious fanatics, they will sacrifice just about everything, even, in some cases, their own personal welfare, rather than admit defeat. There can be little doubt that the more zealous Kirchnerites would much prefer to see Argentina sink into utter squalour than abandon as worthless the makeshift ideology they have cobbled together from scraps provided by local polemists such as Arturo Jauretche and heterodox foes of the established order from other parts of the world. The tragedy which befell Venezuela when cranks much like them took charge by constitutional means and then, when it suited them, set about changing the rules, should serve as a warning to all of us, including Alberto, but up to now few have paid it much heed.