“Despite being elected with over two thirds of the vote last May in an election given a clean bill of health by hundreds of international observers…” began the Morning Star’s editorial on 12 January, under the headline: “Venezuela is under siege – it needs our solidarity.”
Working on the principle that getting basic facts straight, and not telling downright lies, is a good place to start, let’s deal with that opening statement. The May election that (unsurprisingly) returned Nicolás Maduro as president was marked by low turnout and lack of serious options (the main opposition groups all boycotted the vote). Estimates of the turnout vary from 28.5% to 46% (the higher figure coming from the government-controlled National Electoral Council), but either way it was the lowest in Venezuela’s democratic history. The official figure for the 2013 presidential election was close to 80%.
As for the claim that the vote was given a “clean bill of health” by international observers: well, not by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who stated the election “does not in any way fulfil minimal conditions for free and credible elections”. The EU and the “Lima Group” (the majority of other Latin American countries) took a similar view. Presumably, the Morning Star’s claim of a “clean bill of health” refers to those bastions of democracy, China, Cuba, El Salvador, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Syria and Turkey, all of whom did recognise the result.
The rest of the Morning Star’s editorial is little more than a whinge about how nasty many of Maduro’s critics in the rest of Latin America are (true), and how sad it is that the continent’s “pink tide” seems to be in retreat. The editorial denounces the violence that followed the election, but blames it all on opposition forces. It’s certainly true that some of the chaos in Venezuela stems from a US-backed right wing opposition. But the government has prime responsibility for the huge food queues and the hyperinflation. And the Venezuelan government has committed crimes against humanity since at least 2012, according to the Organisation of American States (OAS).
The OAS report says approximately seven people every day have been arbitrarily detained since Maduro was first elected in 2013. Detainees are often subjected to torture, including beatings resulting in untreated physical harm, sexual torture, stress positions, “white torture,” electric shocks, burns, tear¬gas, food mixed with glass or excrement, and withholding food and water. The report cites at least 289 cases of torture that inflicted severe physical and mental suffering, and backs the claim by Luisa Ortega Diaz (Attorney General 2007¬2017) that Maduro was complicit in 8,292 extrajudicial executions.
It is of course the case that the murderous right wing Colombian police state never faced any such charges from the OAS. But the double standard does not let the Venezuelan leadership off the hook. Since the election, new workers’ struggles have arisen and spread. This resistance poses an alternative to both the corrupt and repressive Maduro government and the right-wing opposition backed by the U.S. The Morning Star makes no mention of working class resistance, presumably because it does not fit with an essentially topdown view of what socialism means.
To the extent that Chávez proposed a strategy for achieving socialism by accepting compromises with private capitalist control and the political rule of a minority acting on behalf of the masses of people, that has been proven lacking. Like Ortega’s compromise¬with-capital programme in Nicaragua: and the Morning Star also uncritically backs Ortega, who has faced mass opposition on the streets triggered by pension cuts. Socialism “from above”, in whatever form, failed miserably in the 20th century and will continue to fail in the 21st. Whatever social-welfare reform goals Chavez may have achieved in office, in times of higher oil prices, Maduro and Chavez have stifled the democratic instincts of the working class. And created an authoritarian, militarised state. Now we see a Venezuela whose main feature is social collapse and brutal authoritarianism. 2.5 million to 3 million people have fled.
Maduro explicitly overrules the elected National Assembly (where the opposition won a majority in late 2015). You can’t help suspecting that the authoritarianism is precisely what the Morning Star likes about it. And that is why it resorts to factual dishonesty and uncritical parroting of Maduro’s preposterous propaganda (“Here I am, ready to take our country forward. Here we are with our democracy and our people”).