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The British Left had a love affair with Hugo Chavez, the revolutionary leader of Venezuela, who died in March. They would argue that he wasn’t a dictator, as he allowed elections to take place. But these elections were held under conditions where the state controlled the media and violated the human rights of political opponents.

A report earlier this year from Human Rights Watch said:

By his second full term in office, the concentration of power and erosion of human rights protections had given the government free rein to intimidate, censor, and prosecute Venezuelans who criticized the president or thwarted his political agenda. In recent years, the president and his followers used these powers in a wide range of prominent cases, whose damaging impact was felt by entire sectors of Venezuelan society.

It added that the courts were politicised:

In 2004, Chávez and his followers in the National Assembly carried out a political takeover of Venezuela’s Supreme Court, adding 12 seats to what had been a 20-seat tribunal, and filling them with government supporters. The packed Supreme Court ceased to function as a check on presidential power. Its justices have openly rejected the principle of separation of powers and pledged their commitment to advancing Chávez’s political agenda. This commitment has been reflected in the court’s rulings, which repeatedly validated the government’s disregard for human rights.

While large sections of the media was taken over by the state:

Under Chávez, the government dramatically expanded its ability to control the content of the country’s broadcast and news media. It passed laws extending and toughening penalties for speech that “offends” government officials, prohibiting the broadcast of messages that “foment anxiety in the public,” and allowing for the arbitrary suspension of TV channels, radio stations, and websites.

The Chávez government sought to justify its media policies as necessary to “democratize” the country’s airwaves. Yet instead of promoting pluralism, the government abused its regulatory authority to intimidate and censor its critics. It expanded the number of government-run TV channels from one to six, while taking aggressive steps to reduce the availability of media outlets that engage in critical programming.

In response to negative coverage, Chávez repeatedly threatened to remove private stations from the airwaves by blocking renewal of their broadcast licenses. In 2007, in an act of blatant political discrimination, his government prevented the country’s oldest private television channel, RCTV, from renewing its license and seized its broadcasting antennas. Three years later, it drove RCTV off cable TV as well by forcing the country’s cable providers to stop transmitting its programs.

Gays are harassed. (Although don’t expect those Lefties in Stonewall to mention it.)

As with any Marxist regime there has been a violation of religious freedom. The 2013 United States Commission on International Religious Freedom says:

Between 1998 and 2009, thousands of Jews fled the country due to increased anti-Semitism, the negative political and economic results of the president’s socialist agenda, or some combination of both. The State Department reports that the Jewish population today is estimated to be 12,000, down from an estimated 22,000 in 1998. Prior to President Chavez’s rule, Venezuela was not known to have problems with anti-Semitism; rather it enjoyed a reputation of welcoming Jews during and after the Holocaust.

The state would be complicit as churches, mosques and synagogues were attacked.

Naturally the prisons are full to bursting. An Amnesty International report in September says there is one meant for 700 which currently has 3,700. Deaths from rioting are commonplace.

British apologists of Mr Chavez would tend to avoid talking about human rights and instead proclaim his success in reducing poverty. Given all the oil a reduction in poverty was not a surprise. But World Bank figures suggest that while there was indeed a reduction it was slower than, for example, in Peru or Colombia.

Mr Chavez’s chosen successor Nicolas Maduro is taking the country in the same direction. He is ruling by decree. The inflation rate has reached 54 per cent. Mr Maduro’s response has been to blame profiteering businessmen – arresting a hundred of them –  and send in soldiers to shops to force the sale of electrical goods at bargain prices. Yet the state supermarkets have also been charging high prices. I suppose they will have a monopoly soon. Price controls for lavatory paper and other basic goods have meant that they are unavailable.

The British Left look misty eyed at all this. They see an inspiring vision of what could be achieved in our own country.

Owen Jones, columnist for The Independent, was as keen to defend Mr Chavez as he was chavs. Mr Jones says Mr Chavez managed to overcome “an aggressively hostile media.” That is one way of putting it. Mr Jones adds that Mr Chazev:

Demonstrated that it is possible to resist the neo-liberal dogma that holds sway over much of humanity. He will be mourned by millions of Venezuelans – and understandably so.

The Shadow Minister and Labour MP Jon Trickett tweeted:

I don’t think “RIP” works for Chavez Remember the great words of Joe Hill who said of his own death ‘Don’t Mourn; Organise’.

The Respect MP George Galloway tabled an EDM after the death of Mr Chavez lamenting the loss of “a supporter of the poor and oppressed everywhere.” The Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn, Jim Dobbin, John McDonnell, Alan Meale, Virendra Sharma and Mike Wood. Two Lib Dems – Mike Hancock and Andrew George – also signed up to that perverse verdict of the odious tyrant.

Another EDM praised Mr Chavez as a “champion of the poor and marginalised.” It’s signatories included a further bunch of Labour MPs:

  • Ronnie Campbell
  • Katy Clark,
  • David Crausby
  • John Cryer,
  • Paul Flynn,
  • Mary Glindon,
  • Kelvin Hopkins,
  • Ian Lavery,
  • Andrew Love,
  • Ian Mearns
  • Graeme Morrice,
  • Grahame Morris,
  • Linda Riordan,
  • Dennis Skinner,

Still more Labour MPs signed a previous one. It welcomed the “social development model” provided by Mr Chavez. It praised the progress being made to embrace “those previously marginalised and excluded from economic and political opportunities in the country.” Signatories included Helen Goodman, Jon Cruddas, Clive Efford, Mary Creagh, David Hamilton and Emily Thornberry. All of these Labour MPs are now in Ed Miliband’s Shadow Ministerial team.

Then there is the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign in the UK. It’s patrons include another Labour MP Diane Abbott. It boasts it has 18 national trade unions affiliated to it (as well, naturally, as those champions of free elections the Communist Party of Britain.)

Their magazine included a statement from my Member of Parliament, Andrew Slaughter, who is Labour’s Shadow Justice Minister, that a Chavez victory was:

A great result for the people of Venezuela, progressive politics and the democratic process.

The independence of the judiciary under the “progressive” arrangement commended by Mr Slaughter is indicated by this report from Amnesty International:

Judge María Lourdes Afiuni remained under house arrest throughout 2012. In September, unidentified gunmen drove past the building where she lives and opened fire, aiming towards her apartment. In November, she disclosed publicly that she had been raped while in jail. Judge Afiuni was detained in December 2009 and remained imprisoned for over a year. She was charged with offences including corruption, abuse of authority and association to commit a crime. She had ordered the conditional release of a banker who had been held in custody awaiting trial for more than two years, a decision within her remit and in line with Venezuelan law.

In the same edition of the VSC magazine Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union, said:

“We welcome this result which is a clear endorsement of Hugo Chavez’s progressive social policies. Venezuela shows Governments that put the needs of ordinary working people first can expect strong support at the ballot box. Rather than making ordinary working people bear the brunt of an economic crisis, governments in Europe might want to learn the obvious lessons from Venezuela.”

Mr McCluskey’s union has certainly shown by their activities that they have been following that example towards elections and in dealing with opponents.

Then, of course, we had Ken Livingstone, Labour’s official candidate for Mayor of London last year, whose adulation for Mr Chavez is so well known that no further references are required.

One could go on naming and shaming the Labour apologists for this vile and disastrous regime. But the point has been made that within the Labour Party it is considered a perfectly respectable, mainstream, position to hold.

We have been warned.

61 comments for: The British Left’s shameful stance on Venezuela

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