Would that this were only a dispute at the top, but Maduro is dragging down the entire country. Research has found that GDP declined by almost 20% in 2016 (IMF). Venezuela is at risk of default; its international reserves have plummeted to $10bn as debt payments close in. Inflation is skyrocketing, already having reached 800% at the end of 2016 (available on Trading Economics). A brain drain has begun, as 20% of all asylum applicants to the US in June were Venezuelan. The National Survey of Living Conditions found 93% of Venezuelans say they don’t have the income to buy food, with 73% reporting involuntary weight loss – plus many other harrowing findings besides. Worst, there have been over a hundred deaths in protests across the country, which have gone on for months as the people Maduro claims to represent say an emphatic “no” to his rule.
Frankly, suggesting this is all the fault of right-wing agitators, US bullying and faceless oligarchs – as some figures like Ken Livingstone have been doing – is an incredible exercise in buck-passing. It should not be in any doubt that the Venezuelan experiment is failing. The evidence is all there, in terms of a spiralling economy, a broken political system, and a bloody toll on Venezuelan society.
So Corbyn’s intervention today was welcome. It is, of course, right that he should condemn the violence that has been going on in Venezuela, and his speech was balanced and careful. A little too careful, in fact. Notable in Corbyn’s announcement was the response to whether or not he condemned Maduro’s actions – “What I condemn is the violence that’s been done by any side, by all sides, in all this”.
Call me cynical, but that looks a lot like a sidestep. Of course nobody wants violence to be happening in Venezuela (or anywhere for that matter). What is of interest is Corbyn’s stance towards Maduro and his brazenly autocratic manoeuvres. On this, Corbyn still seems quite happy to equivocate. There shouldn’t be any ambiguity about this – Maduro should be clearly condemned in the strongest terms, even if for no other reason than to provide a stout defence of democracy. It was also strange that Corbyn mentioned the “effective and serious attempts at reducing poverty in Venezuela, improving literacy and improving the lives of many of the poorest people” … erm, yes. Those “efforts” seem to be going swimmingly at the moment. We’re not talking about Venezuela ten years ago, Jeremy – we’re talking about what’s happening there now.
In short, Corbyn could and should have been much gutsier in his announcement today. It’s not the first time his stance has been muddied and unclear – Brexit (where the official line is “keeping all options on the table”) and student debt (which went from a campaign hit to an “aspiration”) show this, but on this issue there is much less room for doubt – sure, the opposition can’t be blameless, but corrupt Maduro is strangling democracy and marching his people to destitution as his creatures gorge themselves on the country’s wealth. Corbyn, as a true socialist concerned with unequal power relations, injustice and the people’s welfare, shouldn’t be afraid to say so.