It wasn’t difficult to see where Venezuela was headed. The most oil-rich nation in the world has been slowly spiralling towards economic collapse for the better part of a decade.
The socialist ideals which inspired the regimes of President Hugo Chavez and his replacement, Nicolas Maduro, have resulted in a catastrophic but sadly foreseeable predicament.
State ownership and control of businesses ground the nation’s enterprises to a halt. Price caps on everything from flour to fuel caused national shortages, mile-long queues at supermarkets, and a thriving black market. Import and currency controls meant businesses had no way to source items necessary for their production lines, and when manufacturing stalled, the government stepped in to requisition private enterprises.
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Meanwhile, the government met the unrelenting challenges with money-printing, borrowing and further restrictions on business. Inflation skyrocketed and is currently nearly 800 per cent, and Venezuela is now the world’s most indebted country.
Maduro’s bid for power
In the last two years in particular, the drastic shortages suffered by the country have extended to toilet paper, life-saving medicines, and even the paper banknotes needed to keep up with rising inflation. But the greatest victim of the socialist regime has been democracy itself.
President Maduro has spent his term consolidating power and abusing Venezuela’s fledgling democracy. When discontent started to grow in the opposition-led legislative assembly, he slashed its powers. When the opposition won a super-majority that would have enabled them to start the impeachment process against the President, his handpicked judges on the Supreme Court disqualified newly elected members from taking their seats. And when fury at his actions led to street protests, he sent out the army to curb demonstrators.
Maduro is a textbook tyrant, and has used his position to accumulate more powers and immobilise or corrupt the legislative and judicial branches of government.
Slide towards dictatorship
Last Sunday’s sham election was no exception. Without a referendum or any consultation, Maduro had announced that the country needed a fresh constitution, and called an election for a “constitutional assembly” to draft it. It is obvious that his intention is to strip the legislature of its existing powers, and possibly scrap it altogether, giving the executive branch total control. The result is a new executive body made up almost entirely of the President’s cronies, including his own wife.
In the mass demonstrations surrounding the election, police clashed with protesters and at least 14 people have died. On Wednesday, Maduro arrested the two opposition leaders. The country, already suffering a humanitarian and economic crisis, is plunging headlong into democratic breakdown. Any advocate of democracy and liberalism should be utterly appalled.
The problem is that for so long Venezuela has been a beacon of hope for socialists. Chavez’s promise to his people, to end poverty and provide free education and healthcare, briefly looked as though it could succeed. A number of left wing politicians across the world took inspiration from a nation that appeared to be demonstrating how socialism could work. One of the most high-profile of these Chavismos was Jeremy Corbyn, the man who came worryingly close to being elected Britain’s Prime Minister in June.
Corbyn’s adoration of Venezuela is by no means unique. But whereas other socialist politicians and commentators changed their positions as the country began to deteriorate, Corbyn has remained adamant. As recently as June 2015, when an economic crisis was looming, he was celebrating the “achievements” of Venezuela.
Now that Venezuela faces not just shortages and debt but dictatorship, military brutality, and the annihilation of political freedom, the Labour leader still will not admit that he was wrong. Nor will his closest colleagues, such as shadow home secretary Diane Abbott, while former mayor of London Ken Livingstone has taken to the airwaves to defend Maduro’s authoritarianism.
Some members of the Labour party have spoken out against what has been happening. Shadow foreign minister Liz McInnes called for respect for human rights and an end to the bloodshed, although she addressed that comment to “everyone in Venezuela, on all sides”, rather than to the government in particular, and did not call the elections invalid. Labour MPs, including Angela Smith and Graham Jones, called on the party leadership to condemn the Maduro regime.
But at the time of writing, Corbyn himself has stayed silent. He declined to comment on whether his view had changed when approached for this article.
This matters, and not only because Western leaders should defend democracy and denounce authoritarianism wherever they see it.
Corbyn built his political career on espousing a model of state ownership that mirrors what was attempted in Venezuela. One can argue that Venezuela’s was not real socialism, or that it was corrupted by unscrupulous individuals, but it is still necessary to acknowledge that it failed. Corbyn refuses to do even that, holding his misguided principles more dear than the thousands of people in Venezuela starving and oppressed by their government.
This is a betrayal of a nation brought from prosperity to chaos in the name of a failed ideology. It is a betrayal of democracy. And you can be sure that the tyrant Maduro is counting on his traditional supporters like Corbyn across the world to stay silent, while he steadily destroys his country.