Some seem keen to ignore the chaos on Venezuela, not least because Donald Trump has taken a stance against the dictator Nicolo Maduro. But that's a mistake and New Zealand's silence only lines us up again alongside Putin's Russia

This month I have written two columns for Stuff on the catastrophe currently unfolding in Venezuela (here and here). The collectivisation of large parts of the economy has led, as it almost always does, to chronic shortages, man-made famine and political repression. In a land that is fertile and rich with natural resources, people have turned to eating zoo animals to quell their hunger.

That we have seen this all before takes away not one iota of its tragedy.

According to international media, things are reaching a boiling point. The capital of Caracas has been rocked by massive protests against the country’s socialist government. It appears that the police are joining in on the demonstrations. Things look to be at a tipping point.

Amid all of this, the Trump administration determined last week that it will no longer recognise Nicolo Maduro as president. The decision by the US and other countries is based on the country's constitution, which says that if a president is not legitimate, he or she is replaced by the president of the National Assembly.

Maduro, the handpicked successor of regime-founder Hugo Chavez, was dubiously re-elected last year. Instead, the United States and others have decided that the country’s legitimate head of state is Juan Guaidó, the leader of the Centre-Left Popular Will coalition and, yes, president of the National Assembly.

In response, Maduro ordered US diplomats out of the country. The United States did not acquiesce since, of course, they no longer recognise the man giving the orders. Maduro then backed down which, if nothing else, is a sign that his rule may be unravelling.

Trump’s actions will probably provide something of a rallying point for the apologists. In that regard, the US moves may be counterproductive. After all, if he can hitch the legitimacy of Maduro to hatred for Trump in the mind of Western liberals, Maduro will go a long way to undermining the protestors.

This would be a mistake. Trump has hardly been a leader here. Other countries determined not to recognise Maduro before the United States. Justin Trudeau’s Canada doesn't see the regime as legitimate. Australia doesn’t either. Add in France, Britain, Spain and Germany.

Within South America Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecudor, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru all consider Guaidó to be the legitimate president. The Organisation of American States has affirmed that it doesn’t consider Maduro the duly elected president. The EU has delivered an ultimatum.

Will New Zealand follow suit? It seems unlikely. Winston Peters, Jacinda Ardern’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, says the country will not wade into the debate. In substance, that’s tantamount to support for Maduro.

That’s par for the course, really.

The countries endorsing Maduro include Russia, China, Iran, Turkey, Cuba, Bolivia, Uruguay and Mexico.

Following publication of my last column, a Venezuelan man living here got in touch to thank me for drawing attention to the country’s plight. He related that he had tried to determine what (if anything) our government had said about the descent into chaos and deprivation. He was disappointed.

Certainly, there is no local pressure on the government to add its voice to those supporting the protestors. Green Party MPs, who so freely express comment on the shortcomings of the US, UK and Australia, have been predictably quiet about the whole thing. The media isn’t exactly pressing the matter either.

So events in that country pass largely without comment here. It is hard to suppress the feeling that Maduro’s ideology is an essential ingredient to all this. It’s much easier to stay focussed on the latest Trump outrage than to confront the failings of a system for which one has a measure of natural sympathy.

And an honest reckoning would be all the harder, one suspects, for those who expressed occasional or frequent solidarity with the regime on the basis of its anti-American, anti-capitalist bona fides. The devastation is written off as having low news value. One of the most frequent objections to my columns was that what happens in a random South American country is a distraction that has little to do with New Zealand.

This too, is a mistake.

Venezuela has, in years gone by, been an important trading partner for New Zealand. At various times, it has been one of our biggest milk powder buyers. When the government could still afford to buy foreign food, we did well out of the shortages there.

We really owe the people of Venezuela more of our attention. Perhaps we will be shamed into it at some point. Long after it would make any difference, probably.

In the meantime, the Ardern ministry finds itself more or less aligned with Putin’s Russia. Not for the first time, it bears noting.

Comments (17)

by Andrew Miller on January 28, 2019
Andrew Miller

The silence regarding Venezuela is depressing, but hardly surprising. It's consistent with the Western lefts aproach to the country for years. There's few more nauseating sights than Guardian journo Owen Jones's literal silence on Venezuela for years, after spending the previous few rarely shutting up (and being paid to visit) about the wonders of the place under Chavez. It seemed that in his mind the place ceased to exist, he just moved on like nothing happened. His moral cowardice is hardly atypical, 

The position of the NZ left has been much the same, but what can they do...

To address the place with any honesty would expose how vacuous much of their ethnical grounding has become. For all the talk of 'social justice', they're helpless in the face of an authouritrian regime of the left, and their grotesque violations of human rights. For a while you got the standard talk of bretrayal by global forces, particuarly America, and that opposition was only driven by the far right. But that all dried up once it was obvious the position was untenable. I guess now that Trump has spoken up they may try that line again, but the sitaution is so godawfully dire I doubt even they're that brazen.

The only people on the left in any position to speak on Venezuela are those unfashionalbe types (who these days are as likely to be accused of being on the right) who've never abandedoned a universalist human rights ethic. For them to condemn what's happening is simple common sense, and also consistent with their ethical world view.

Venezuela may be an extreme example, but the reason for the left's silence is the same as it is on Peter's racism, or Hamas, or Corbyn's odious links, or any other examples where 'anti imperialist' opressed/opressor binary thinking leads them to either defend or be silent in the face of what should be indefensible, and what they wouldn't hesitate to criticise if it they could put the blame on the right. It's a 'social justice' world view without a meaningful conception of what justice looks like.

Meanwihile Venezuelans are starving as the result of a tyrant, and the end result of the sequence of events that were eminently predictable to anyone not blinded by someone claiming to have installed 'socialism'. 

 

 

by Andrew Miller on January 28, 2019
Andrew Miller

The silence regarding Venezuela is depressing, but hardly surprising. It's consistent with the Western lefts aproach to the country for years. There's few more nauseating sights than Guardian journo Owen Jones's literal silence on Venezuela for years, after spending the previous few rarely shutting up (and being paid to visit) about the wonders of the place under Chavez. It seemed that in his mind the place ceased to exist, he just moved on like nothing happened. His moral cowardice is hardly atypical, 

The position of the NZ left has been much the same, but what can they do...

To address the place with any honesty would expose how vacuous much of their ethnical grounding has become. For all the talk of 'social justice', they're helpless in the face of an authouritrian regime of the left, and their grotesque violations of human rights. For a while you got the standard talk of bretrayal by global forces, particuarly America, and that opposition was only driven by the far right. But that all dried up once it was obvious the position was untenable. I guess now that Trump has spoken up they may try that line again, but the sitaution is so godawfully dire I doubt even they're that brazen.

The only people on the left in any position to speak on Venezuela are those unfashionalbe types (who these days are as likely to be accused of being on the right) who've never abandedoned a universalist human rights ethic. For them to condemn what's happening is simple common sense, and also consistent with their ethical world view.

Venezuela may be an extreme example, but the reason for the left's silence is the same as it is on Peter's racism, or Hamas, or Corbyn's odious links, or any other examples where 'anti imperialist' opressed/opressor binary thinking leads them to either defend or be silent in the face of what should be indefensible, and what they wouldn't hesitate to criticise if it they could put the blame on the right. It's a 'social justice' world view without a meaningful conception of what justice looks like.

Meanwihile Venezuelans are starving as the result of a tyrant, and the end result of the sequence of events that were eminently predictable to anyone not blinded by someone claiming to have installed 'socialism'. 

 

 

by Tom Semmens on January 29, 2019
Tom Semmens

The above commet was posted twice, totally appropriate for a pair of right wing twits running an echo chamber.

by Lee Churchman on January 29, 2019
Lee Churchman

The collectivisation of large parts of the economy has led, as it almost always does, to chronic shortages, man-made famine and political repression

As it did with the 20th century wave of nationalisations in countries like the UK. Oh wait, never happened. 

by barry on January 29, 2019
barry

Some of us still remember the US rushing to support the coup in 2002. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2002/apr/21/usa.venezuela

It is a bit rich to say that NZ has to take sides.  It is not up to NZ to say who we recognise as leader of a country.  The country has organs of government that we have to deal with, and while they still function, it is business as usual for us.  If the bureaucracy breaks down and we can no longer trade, or send letters then we can look for alternatives.

Where there are human rights abuses, it is up to us to point them out as friends and ask that they respect rights.  Yes it is sad what is happening there, but if we suported overthrowing governments for incompetence or even corruption then international law will look a lot different.  In the end it is up to the UN to step in to prevent catastrophe.  Politics has stopped that elsewhere in the past, and it may stop that in this case too (even if it is deemed to be bad enough).

Be careful it doesn't end like Chile in 1973.

by Rex Ahdar on January 29, 2019
Rex Ahdar

There is no doubt Venezuela is in a terrible state and the suffering is severe. Let us still debate the politics, but meanwehile send some practical aid:

https://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/109937604/the-milk-of-human-kindn...

 

by Andrew Miller on January 29, 2019
Andrew Miller

Right, sticking up for human rights, democracy and the rule of law is 'right wing'. How utterly predictable. You may have missed the fact that nothing I said wouldn't have already been said countless times by the Venezuelan democractic left and their allies who weren't blinded by Chavez, and who've been outraged by moral cowardice of many leftists who will happy to shill for an authouritarian regime, and then go silent when things turned bad. If telling yourself that the vocal outrage at what's been happening in Venezuela only comes from the right makes you sleep easier, then go for it.

"As it did with the 20th century wave of nationalisations in countries like the UK. Oh wait, never happened."

You think 20th century the actions of the Chavestas in power, and 20th century UK is even remotely comaprable? If you have evidence of 'the collectivisation of large parts of the economy' in the UK then please enlighten us, otherwise you comment is facile.

The other thing that's apparent form all these comments, is the complete lack of seriousness in acknowledging the scale of the catastrophy that's befallen Venezuela. If you're actually serious about considering it, you may want to drop the reflexive cliches about interventon and strawmen about social democracies and comprehend the scale of the tragedy, and the responsibilities of those who many in the west championed for causing it.

I've seen no one even vaguely mainstream suggest intervention (the idea of the UN doing anything is laughtable) as a solution, (It's alway bought up to deflect from actualy facing up to what the regime itself if doing) but the weird thing is it's almost like people think only then would things really turn to shit.

There's a lot of people who mght actually put themselves on the road back to credibility if the actually acknowledged how wrong they got. There's no shame in that, there sure as hell is in playing games of mental gymnastics to avoid facing it.

by Lee Churchman on January 30, 2019
Lee Churchman

You think 20th century the actions of the Chavestas in power, and 20th century UK is even remotely comaprable? If you have evidence of 'the collectivisation of large parts of the economy' in the UK then please enlighten us, otherwise you comment is facile.

The National Health Service (nationalisation of health care in 1948).

On 5 July 1948 the National Health Service nationalised the hospital service in Britain. This was part of a broad reconstruction programme after the Second World War, which saw nationalisation of many industries and services, including railways, steel, and gas and electricity utilities.

Source: http://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk/broughttolife/techniques/nhs 

Thanks for playing. That's the easiest win of the day. 

Incidentally, Venezuela nationalised its oil industry in 1976. That's 23 years before Chavez was elected. 

by Richard James McIntosh on January 31, 2019
Richard James McIntosh

Andrew Miller hyperventilates about the situation in a foreign state and wants to bend this hyperbole to bash supporters of political parties he doesn't like here at home. But it's wrong-headed to think that doing this equates to "sticking up for human rights, democracy and the rule of law". 

by Richard James McIntosh on January 31, 2019
Richard James McIntosh

Andrew Miller hyperventilates about the situation in a foreign state and wants to bend this hyperbole to bash supporters of political parties he doesn't like here at home. But it's wrong-headed to think that doing this equates to "sticking up for human rights, democracy and the rule of law". 

by Fentex on February 03, 2019
Fentex

Guidao is executing a coup in Venezuela (it is not within the Constitutional powers of the national Assembly to invalidate an election).

Picking his side against the executive of Venezuela is supporting a coup and possibly promoting civil war.

I don't think our government ought be doing that, and am perfectly happy for NZ to keep it's nose out of such problems.

Do people who think Maduro is an illegitimate executive (because of shady and poorly establiashed constitutional practices) also think Trump is illegimitate because of the archaic and non-democratic results generated by the U.S electoral college? If you don't apply 'reasons' evenly your reasons are just choices.

Let's not choose to side with the those who fuck up countries that need to sort out their own shit.

by Dennis Frank on February 03, 2019
Dennis Frank

I disagree with Fentex in respect of perception of a coup and will provide evidence that Trump is (surprisingly) right so far.  Unless Maduro looses troops or death squads on the opposition, he must not invade!  I think Liam's framing is appropriate, and Andrew Miller hits the nail on the head with his explanation of leftist silence.  Addressing the rights & wrongs "with any honesty would expose how vacuous much of their ethnical grounding has become."  You bet!

The National Assembly is the Venezuelan parliament: “Under the new Bolivarian 1999 Constitution, the legislative branch of Government in Venezuela is represented by a unicameral National Assembly. The Assembly is made up of 165 deputies (diputados), who are elected by “universal, direct, personal, and secret” vote on a national party-list proportional representation system. In addition, three deputies are returned on a state-by-state basis, and three seats are reserved for representatives of Venezuela’s indigenous peoples.” [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Assembly_(Venezuela)]

“In the midst of the ongoing constitutional crisis, a different body, the Constituent Assembly was elected in 2017, with the intent of re-writing the Venezuelan Constitution. From that point forward, the two legislatures have operated in parallel, with the National Assembly forming the primary opposition to president Nicolás Maduro, and with the Constituent Assembly being his primary supporters.”

“Guaidó was elected President of the National Assembly of Venezuela in December 2018, and was sworn in on 5 January 2019.” Kiwis need to grasp that authenticity is established by democratic process and mandate.

“Article 233 of the Constitution of Venezuela provides that, “when the president-elect is absolutely absent before taking office, a new election shall take place […] and until the president is elected and takes office, the interim president shall be the president of the National Assembly”. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juan_Guaid%C3%B3]

“After what he and others described as the “illegitimate” inauguration of Maduro on 10 January 2019, Guaidó said that he would challenge Maduro’s claim to the presidency,the National Assembly announced Guaidó had assumed the powers and duties of president, and they would continue to plan to remove Maduro.”

Thus the authentic parliament used article 233 of the constitution to elect Guaido, making him interim president on a constitutional basis.  This signals an appropriate moral choice for our govt:  declare support for Guaido because he has become interim president as the result of Venezuelan democratic process.  Failure to do so can be excused - too many higher priorities for the coalition.

The practice of stalinism has become a traditional option for socialist governments during the past century.  Let's hope Maduro does not yield to the temptation of genocide.  Clearly it was wrong of him to establish a fake parliament when he lost control of the real one.  It was wrong of him to remove judges from the Supreme Court when they tried to defend democracy.  It was wrong of him to hold an election that was not free or fair, after ensuring their electoral commission was stacked with his supporters.  But from his point of view, these three steps were essential to retain control of the country, so he has established an excellent track record as the most successful stalinist dictator this side of Robert Mugabe.

“The annual inflation rate reached 1,300,000% in the 12 months to November 2018, according to a study by the National Assembly.” Maduro is still miles away from surpassing his stalinist mentor, Mugabe - Google says in June 2008 Mugabe raised the bar to “11.2 million percent.”

by Fentex on February 03, 2019
Fentex

Venezuela has five branches of govenrmnet, and one - not the National Assembly - has sole responsiblity for over-seeing and validating election; the Committe for National Elections.

And it validated the recent election of Maduro.

Guidao and his supporters argue the CNE has been suborned by Maduro and cannot be respected - but that is not a constitutional option available to them, this is why their actions constitue a coup.

If the CNE had invalidated the election Maduro and his VP would cease to hold their offices at the end of their term (they were inaugurated in April 2013 to a five year term) and then Maduro (as President of the National Assembly) would become interim President pending elections.

And then only in April when Maduro's term expires, not now as Guidao claims.

But the CNE validated, not invalidated, the election. Maduro does not have the authority to invalidate it.

He is executing a coup.

 

by Dennis Frank on February 03, 2019
Dennis Frank

I just did a reality-check on that here:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Electoral_Council_(Venezuela)

Seems clear that it got captured quite early:  "The Supreme Tribunal of Justice, with the majority supporting Chávez, elected officials to the supposedly non-partisan National Electoral Council of Venezuela (CNE) despite the 1999 Constitution stating for the National Assembly of Venezuela to perform the task. That resulted with the CNE board having a majority consisting of Chavistas or those that supported Chávez. Since then, the Venezuelan government controlled by the PSUV ruling party has manipulated elections, holding control of the CNE, the media and through government spending. Following the election of Nicolás Maduro – Chávez's handpicked successor – into the presidency, the CNE has been described as being pro-Maduro."

So Maduro is merely continuing the stalinist state-capture enterprise launched by Chavez.  Their takeover of the CNE was unconstitutional.  That's all we need to know.  Any impartial observer knows you can't have free and fair elections when the outcome is pre-determined by stalinists...

by Fentex on February 03, 2019
Fentex

So Maduro is merely continuing the stalinist state-capture enterprise launched by Chavez

As i said, a coup. The people of Venezuela may one day (and perhaps this is such a day) find they must resort to extra-legal force to constrain an abusive government.

And if they do they should resolve that among themselves as their populace chooses who is in the right and who to fight for or against.

It is not for others, with their own vested interests, loyalties, allegiances and ambitinos to decide for them.

And if you try yo argue the U.S is only acting in compassion for oppressed people I am going to laugh at you.

by Lee Churchman on February 04, 2019
Lee Churchman

The practice of stalinism has become a traditional option for socialist governments during the past century.

What precisely do you mean by 'Stalinism'?

by Dennis Frank on February 05, 2019
Dennis Frank

Use of covert infiltration to capture the institutions of govt, primarily via selective replacement of opponents.  Works best when democracy still seems to be operational, via the masking of the takeover.  Perception defeats reality for most observers.  The sham just needs to fool most people most of the time...

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