Corbyn and his allies have been pretty quiet on Venezuela lately, as the country’s collapse into civil turmoil and economic crisis accelerates. Venezuela has now been in recession for four years, and according to the IMF, inflation will reach a shocking 1,000,000% this year.
The crisis in Venezuela is of course not confined to the economy; death tolls have been rising amid mass protests across the country. Maduro, praised by Corbyn himself for his commitment to democracy and socialist values, in 2017 banned nationwide protests. Those who defied the ban faced a jail sentence of 5-10 years. Not exactly sounding like the democratic paradise Corbyn so emphatically endorsed.
Only a few years prior all corners of Corbyn’s camp hailed Hugo Chavez and then Maduro as shining examples of the change they wanted to see in the world: a vision to be replicated in Britain. So what’s with the hard left’s fetishisation of an actively totalitarian regime, in which civilians are starving and dissenters are locked up?
Here are 10 of the best examples of Corbyn and his friends praising the Venezuelan system before they went quiet:
1) Jeremy Corbyn, March 2013
Corbyn tweeted on Hugo Chavez’s death: “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”
We shouldn’t be surprised at Corbyn praising the legacy of Chavez, or indeed citing his politics as a model to be replicated, but we should certainly be concerned at Corbyn’s tenuous grasp of history. Ricardo Hausmann, Harvard economist and former Venezeulan Government Minister gives a pretty comprehensive account of the irreparable damage Chavez did to the Venezuelan economy, and how he created the conditions that allowed Maduro to thrive: changing the constitution to consolidate presidential power, expropriation of the economy and the incredible mismanagement of Venezuelan oil that created the conditions for the implosion in 2014.
2) Jeremy Corbyn, March 2013 (again)
Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech after Chavez’s death and said: “In Chavez let’s remember someone who stood up, was counted, was inspiring, is inspiring, and in his death we will march on to that better, just, peaceful and hopeful world.”
3) Jeremy Corbyn, 2014…
In 2014 Jeremy Corbyn rang President Maduro, already on his way to further entrench presidential power, live on a Venezuelan television broadcast to congratulate his electoral success. Maduro introduced Corbyn as a ‘friend of Venezuela.’
4) Diane Abbott, 2012
Now Shadow Home Secretary, Abbott, speaking at a Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign event, said: “I think the importance of Venezuela is it shows another way is possible. Obviously it’s got oil wealth which makes a difference, but nonetheless, they’ve sought to invest in the country and they’ve sought to continue to fight poverty.”
The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington also made the claim that the Venezuelan voting system is superior to both the British and the US systems.
5) John McDonnell, 2014
In a documentary titled Hugo Chavez: A Portrait from Europe, then backbencher John McDonnell praised Chavez’s socialist regime in Venezuela: “Here you had the contrast between capitalism in crisis and socialism in action.”
6) Owen Jones, 2012
Ah, everyone’s favourite journalist turned Marxist activist turned Corbyn-mouthpiece, Owen Jones! No surprises here, but worth mentioning Owen Jones’ impassioned pitch in the Independent titled: “Hugo Chavez proves you can lead a progressive, popular government that says no to neo-liberalism.”
He says: “Chavez’s critics in the West are entitled to passionately disagree with him. But it’s time they stopped pretending he is a dictator.”
I missed the history lesson where they taught us about how manipulating a constitution to consolidate your own presidential power is un-dictatorial, Owen.
7) Richard Burgon, 2013
Richard Burgon, somehow the MP for Leeds East, tweeted in 2013: “Victory for the Labour Movement in Venezuela: bus driver, trade unionist and socialist Nicolas Maduro elected as President of Venezuela.”
8) Chris Williamson, 2017
When asked on Newsnight whether he was “closer to Chavez, Maduro” in his political philosophy, “or Tony Blair” Chris Williamson MP prevaricated until eventually refusing to answer: “I think it’s kind of an irrelevant question really.”
9) The Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign, 2018
The Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign met in London earlier in 2018 as opposition voices continue to be shut down and inflation spirals out of control in Venezuela. The conference was attended by Chris Williamson and recently expelled Ken Livingstone. Presumably the conference was held in order to celebrate Maduro’s steady descent into full-blown authoritarianism. Diane Abbott who has spoken to the group before also employs the national coordinator for the campaign in her Parliamentary office.
10) Young Labour, 2018
Guido reported in May that Young Labour’s International Officer and Secretary of London Young Labour, Marcus Barnett, tweeted approving messages of Maduro. These were promptly re-tweeted by Laura Murray, daughter of Corbyn’s ex-campaign chief Andrew Murray. Venezuelan pride has become a family affair. And: Young Labour, previously considered to be a breeding ground for the moderate left, seems to be getting swept up in Labour’s recent lurch to the left.