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OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 02-02-2019 11:53

Maduro and his friends

Luckily for Nicolás Maduro, despite his often brutal and invariably ham-handed behaviour, many people who see themselves as leftists feel obliged to treat him kindly.

Néstor Kirchner, who before becoming president was very much a man of the political right, once justified his decision to ally himself with the leftist dominated human-rights organisations he and his wife had cold-shouldered for years by pointing out that having them onside would shield him from criticism, by giving him the equivalent of the legal privileges that help crooked parliamentarians stay out of jail. To convince the “activists” and others of his sincerity, he showered them with money.

It was a smart move. While in recent years left-wing political parties have been getting few and fewer votes in elections, the movement they represent remains a powerful cultural force the world over, one whose supporters are more than willing to pounce on anyone who fails to treat their shibboleths with what they think is proper respect. As readers of even conservative newspapers are aware, when a journalist describes a politician as “right-wing,” it means that he or she does not belong in civilised society and should be regarded with contempt. In contrast, “left-wing” ones, no matter how uncouth they may be, are assumed to be inspired by lofty ideals.

That is why not only the Kirchnerites, but many others, among them the political heirs of the late Hugo Chávez, continue to reap benefits from the belief that, in their own peculiar way, they are left-wingers and should therefore be treated with more indulgence by the rest of the world than would otherwise be the case.

Luckily for Nicolás Maduro, despite his often brutal and invariably ham-handed behaviour, many people who see themselves as leftists feel obliged to treat him kindly. Some have even rallied to support him in his hour of need by telling us he is the victim of a cunning Donald Trumpinspired putsch. Others, such as the British Labour Party’s formal leader Jeremy Corbyn, Uruguay’s President Tabaré Vázquez, his predecessor José ‘Pepe’ Mujica, Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador and Pope Francis, have declined to join the chorus demanding that he call it quits and let Venezuelans decide between him and the “interim president” Juan Guaidó.

Not that long ago, left-wing revolutionaries were fiercely against the notion that national sovereignty meant that outsiders had no right to interfere if a country’s internationally recognised government started massacring people who objected to its rule or made a habit of looting whatever its members could get their fingers on. They thought that they at least should be allowed to meddle in the internal affairs of every country on earth and often did so with considerable enthusiasm. But times have changed. Leftists now insist that Maduro’s regime has the sovereign right to do whatever it likes in Venezuela and that attempts by the United States, Canada, Argentina, Brazil and other Latin American countries, plus many in Europe, to dissuade him should not be tolerated.

To justify the economic and diplomatic pressures they are applying in an effort to make Maduro step down, Western governments argue that the regime is illegitimate because it is undemocratic and lacks public support. The principle thus evoked is appealing, but much the same can be said about several dozen dictatorships, among them China’s, which are fawned upon by some of the people who have recently taken to demanding that Venezuela hold fair and free elections.

Their willingness to make an exception of Venezuela can be attributed partly to the belief that at long last the “Bolivarian” regime – unlike Cuba’s or, needless to say, China’s – is now on its last legs and could collapse at any moment, and partly to the undeniable fact that it is making life increasingly difficult for neighbouring countries by flooding them with refugees. Several million have already fled and, unless something drastic happens very soon, millions more could follow in their footsteps. Though the scale of the exodus is comparable with the one Europe faced a couple of years back, its impact on the region has been far smaller because there are few cultural differences between the Venezuelan migrants and their hosts.

Left-wingers who think Maduro deserves support are doing their best to blame his unhappy country’s plight on Yankee imperialism, not on his attachment to a degenerate version, more fascistic than socialist, of a creed that in recent years has lost much of its once strong appeal, though it appears to be making a comeback in the US, of all places. It would surely make more sense for them to dissociate themselves from a regime that has managed to destroy a country boasting what are allegedly the world’s largest oil reserves, turning much of it into an urban wasteland like something out of a dystopian Hollywood fantasy in which formerly well-off professionals are reduced to scavenging for food in rubbish dumps, medical products cannot be found and stunted children go hungry. But despite everything that has happened in Venezuela, there are plenty of leftists who would much rather watch Venezuelans starve than see them abandoning what Chávez once called “21st century socialism.”

For such individuals, the political ideology they cling to matters far more than the fate of mere people. That is why true-believers in Communism, the more belligerent variants of fascism or Islamism are prone to react to failure with extreme violence; they all take it for granted that if their schemes come to nothing, it must be because their enemies are sabotaging them, not because they simply could not be made to work.

There are still plenty of people who want to convince themselves that just about anything must be better than capitalism as we know it and are willing to rally behind governments that say they share their hopes. Perhaps there are far fewer such individuals around than there were when some of the Western world’s most prestigious intellectuals sung the praises of the mass-murderers Stalin, Mao and Fidel Castro – but there are still enough of them to give a little aid and comfort to such a farcical, but nonetheless terribly harmful, representative of the breed as Maduro.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).

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