A modern tragedy applauded by deluded leftists
Published by The Daily Telegraph (18th May, 2016)
To understand why the thought of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister is so alarming, take a look at the unfurling chaos in Venezuela. This is the place praised by the Labour leader as an alternative global model with its promise of ’21st century Socialism’. Six years ago he hailed it for ‘seriously conquering poverty by emphatically rejecting the Neo Liberal policies of the world’s financial institutions.’ Less than 12 months ago he was still urging us to celebrate its ‘achievements’ in jobs, health and housing.
He is not alone on the hard Left in sanctifying this Latin American country. His spin doctor Seumas Milne claimed the regime in Caracas offered ‘lessons to anyone interested in social justice and new forms of socialist politics’; it was, he wrote, proof of an alternative to the West’s ‘failed neoliberal system’. Self-styled revolutionaries in showbiz and the media proclaimed its progress. Venezuela ‘shows that another way is possible’, said Diane Abbott, contrasting it with British austerity.
She is right, although perhaps not in the way she intended. For what Venezuela shows is the dismal failure of the kind of Left-wing politics idealised by the Corbyn camp. The consequences of this century’s most famous experiment in Socialism, first under President Hugo Chavez and then his risible successor Nicolas Maduro, are as devastating as the nightmares induced last century around the world with similarly-misguided policies. A spendthrift, divisive government trying to fix prices and subsidise goods has wrecked a once-prosperous, middle-income nation.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, which have earned more than one trillion dollars since 1999. Yet such is the crisis in the country that the only contemporary comparison that can be made is with Zimbabwe’s meltdown under Robert Mugabe. Venezuela has the world’s worst inflation, currently about 180 per cent and predicted to rise almost tenfold next year. Yet for all the money being printed, there is almost nothing to buy in shops, with shortages from flour and nappies to medicines and underwear. Desperate people queue from the middle of the night outside supermarkets; tear gas had to be fired to disperse hundreds of looters after a lorry carrying salt and shampoo crashed.
How Venezuelans must yearn for a dose of ‘failed neo liberal policies’; capitalism and consumerism have lifted millions from poverty around the planet this century while Socialism has done the precise opposite in this country of 30 million people. Seven in ten are of them in poverty, many reduced to smuggling goods over borders to survive. Cities are cursed with violent crime. Corruption is rife. Amid power cuts, the government had to plead with women not to waste energy by using hairdryers while public sector workers were put on a two-day working week.
To put the country’s plight into hideous perspective, ponder this: the only country suffering more extreme economic contraction is conflict-ridden Syria. Both countries have stopped reporting official data. Little wonder, given the surreal situations some Venezuelan firms must endure. The biggest beer producer shut down production due to the lack of barley imports, only for bosses to be threatened with jail for ‘sabotage’. Another firm went to extreme lengths to find black market toilet paper for staff, then was accused of joining Yankee-backed economic war.
This is a place where the president once personally sacked 20,000 state oil firm workers and replaced them with 100,000 supporters. As part of his proclaimed mission to lift people from poverty, the posturing Chavez promised above all to transform health care. He sent oil to his idol Fidel Castro in return for thousands of Cuban doctors. Yet such is the shattered state of hospitals, a report revealed a hundredfold rise in deaths of infants below one month old since 2012. Maternal mortality has returned to rates last seen 40 years ago.
A New York Times investigation has found that hospitals do not even have enough water to wash blood from operating tables. Now the president, blaming foreign agitators and hit by falling oil prices, has imposed a state of emergency while locked in stalemate with an opposition-dominated parliament; there is growing talk of insurgency.
This country, with its flat-topped mountains, wondrous jungle, gaping prairies, gorgeous beaches and welcoming people, is among the most amazing I have visited. Yet it has descended into darkness, a modern tragedy driven by deluded leftists. So when you hear Corbyn and his chums pontificate about ‘progressive’ policies, remember Venezuela.