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Sunday 18 September 2016

Venezuela: The left's giant forgetting

Earlier this year Jeremy Corbyn deleted a lot of content from his website. Right, malnourished child in Maracaibo hospital.

"Malnourished children who faint in class. Children who, in the worst cases, die from hunger, their bodies nothing but skin and bones, the outlines of their ribs visible.

Images like those have become common in Venezuela, where critical food shortages are pushing hundreds of thousands of children under a blanket of misery and hunger more often seen in the poorest countries in Africa."
Hunger haunts Venezuela, especially its children, Miami Herald, August 5, 2016.

For months images of starving Venezuelan children, reports of food riots, of the very poorest banging pots on the streets demanding food and desperate parents hunting for medicine for their children have appeared in Western media.

Ordinary people are now being randomly snatched out of the huge food lines, arrested and labelled saboteurs by a government desperate to blame anyone else but themselves.

President Maduro has joked about the food crisis.

Nothing new

These images of starvation are not new, although the media attention is. Last June The Economist reported evidence that Chavismo's vaunted alleviation of poverty and food insecurity had reversed.
Marianella Herrera, a nutritionist at the Fundación Bengoa, a private foundation, calls official data partial and inconsistent. “Other studies show an increase in malnutrition,” she says. “Children are showing up in hospital emergency wards with severe malnutrition, and some are dying because of a lack of basic supplies.” The government’s own figures, which show it reached the UN target for reducing malnutrition in children by 2008, indicate that by 2013 Venezuela was close to crossing the line again, in the opposite direction.

From The Economist, June 2015.

June 2015 was also the time of the last recorded comment  (that I am aware of) by Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn on Venezuela, at a rally organised by the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC).  In March 2016 he deleted a slew of content from his website including this pro-Chavismo article.

Circulated by VSC prior to June2015 rally.
His speech in June 2015 did not include anything - not one word - on the situation with hunger in Venezuela. Almost the entire focus was on supposed American imperialism.

Yet not only was there reporting on starving Venezuelans in June 2015 there were many earlier reports, such as this one from March 2014 about riot police preventing a 'empty pots march' on the Food Ministry.
More than 5,000 protesters banged pots, blew horns and whistles and carried banners in the capital to decry crippling inflation and shortages of basics including flour, milk and toilet paper. Similar protests were held in at least five other cities.

All over Venezuela, people spend hours every week queuing at supermarkets, often before dawn, without even knowing what may arrive.

“There’s nothing to buy. You can only buy what the government lets enter the country because everything is imported. There’s no beef. There’s no chicken,” said Zoraida Carrillo, a 50-year-old marcher in Caracas.

Silent witness

Also at that June 2015 rally were Labour MPs Richard Burgon and Grahame Morris and Labour MSP Neil Findlay.

I cannot find any comment on Venezuela by any of those three since last June.

This is symptomatic of a silence which has descended over the left on Venezuela from those who have previously and loudly cheered Chavismo. Symptomatic of that silence is the prominent British journalist and activist Owen Jones. Jones is very active on social media and he has been asked numerous times to explain his silence. He has not responded.

The timeline of the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign since last June demonstrates this sudden poverty of interest. It is like Venezuela has become kryptonite to a certain section of the left. Something which is no longer talked about in certain circles.

The group Labour Friends of Progressive Latin America, formed in May, also has nothing to say about Venezuela.


What has occupied these people, and others such as MP Diane Abbott, since they decided to forget about Venezuela and its starving children, is a so-called 'coup' in Brazil. That country - like Venezuela - has suffered from enormous levels of corruption which has involved politicians from all parties. Are you sensing a theme?

Whither the 'socialist economic model'?

What the Maduro government is doing is entrenching the political philosophy which created the food crisis in the first place. The same economic policies which these British left-wingers had previously cheered on.

Key to the entrenchment is a Spanish Marxist Professor called Alfredo Serrano Mancilla. Those policies include:
Expropriations, the seizure of businesses, “urban agriculture” on balconies, the soviet supply system and forced employment in the public agriculture sector are all a result of Serrano’s influence.
He is the coordinator of the Center for Political and Social Studies (CEPS), a Spanish anti-capitalist organization that provides political consulting and is closely associated with the left-wing party Podemos.

Mancilla is described as "a kind of ideologue of Chavismo." Maduro has called him "the Jesus Christ of the economy."

Mancilla, according to the Spanish newspaper El Nacional, has solidified the idea that the socialist economic model of the 21st century is unquestionable, and that any failure is the result of attacks from the opposition.

Does this sound familiar? Ring any bells?

Mancilla has said he wants to hide the crisis and not allow the entry of humanitarian aid. NGOs like Doctors Without Borders cannot act in Venezuela without asking permission from authorities.

Writing last month César Crespo noted that 'Chavismo' was always built around an uneasy alliance between heterogenous political groups, but "his long game was always establishing an “alternative” to capitalism." (This is what Western lefties fell in love with.)
Let’s not forget that even though initially Chavez vehemently denied being a Marxist and ran in 1998 as a third-way Caribbean Tony Blair, he openly embraced marxism soon afterwards, he had ties from the beginning with Venezuelan radical marxist groups who had even trained his handpicked heir, his economic guru was an ideological Marxist dinosaur, counted Fidel Castro as a mentor and considered Cuba a “sea of happiness”, and even had a soft spot for North Korea.  
His most important economic policies were the expropriation of the type of companies that no sane government on the planet runs, the establishment of draconian price controls, irrational labor regulations, and useless foreign currency controls. Chávez was a media savvy politician who knew how to pander to hip antiestablishment ideologies, but deep down the difference between 21st century socialism and the 20th century variant was always paper-thin.


Failing to mention that the worst legacy of Chávez (the destruction of the Venezuelan economy) is tied to his faith in discredited economic ideas is doing a favor to people like Alfredo Serrano, Pablo Iglesias or Jeremy Corbyn. Chávez is not just a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of populist institution-busting, he’s a cautionary tale for re-branding of Marxism as hip, anti-establishment ideology.

Question more

The unheard.
Yet that cautionary tale is no caution if it is unheard.

Writing in May the British author Nick Cohen railed against those who had backed Chavismo and were now silent.
The show is over now. Their fantasies fulfilled, the western tourists have left a ruined country behind without a guilty glance over their shoulder. Venezuela looks as if it has been pillaged by a hostile army, though there has been no war.
Yet during the Labour leadership campaign Corbyn has faced no questioning over Venezuela, not from his opponent or from any journalist in any of his many interviews. No one has waved pictures of starving children in front of his face demanding answers.

Neither is anyone demanding answers from those trade unions who continue - even now - to support the Venezuelan regime.

Ads in current VSC Bulletin.

Some Western lefties have looked inward at their previous support for Chavismo - here Useful Stooges covers the turn-around by some Norwegians.

It is cowardly of others, like Corbyn and the rest, to not follow suit and it is appalling that they are allowed to get away with it.

Edited to add (this is from a Corbyn rally and refers to a popular BBC show sold to a semi-commercial rival.):

See also:


  1. After reading this piece, I honestly cannot find the words to express how disgusted I am at the Left.

  2. Some starving children would need to exist first before you can use them in your propaganda.