The plight of Venezuelans, who have been disenfranchised, starved and oppressed by their autocratic government, has finally caught international attention.
President Nicolas Maduro has made a mockery of the country’s democracy, calling a sham election purely for the purpose of giving himself more power. Since that election on Sunday, two opposition leaders have been arrested in midnight raids, and the company that provided the voting machines announced that the results – which suggested the country had turned out in force to support Maduro – had been tampered with. Violent protests have left fourteen people dead. Maduro’s increasingly authoritarian brutality has garnered global outrage.
But in its cloistered corner of the political spectrum, barricaded from reality, the far left of the British Labour party continues to stick its fingers in its ears.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is currently on holiday. His silence, despite pressure from journalists and members of his own party, is deafening, given that he has spent decades championing the socialist regime of Maduro, and his predecessor Hugo Chavez. As the situation in Venezuela has grown steadily more dire, Corbyn never recanted his support of the country’s dictatorial leaders.
While Corbyn has kept out of the debate (somehow finding time this week to tweet criticism of Arsenal’s billionaire owner but not to reassess his “solidarity” with Maduro), other far left Labourites have not been so cautious. Chris Williamson, an MP and one of Corbyn’s closest parliamentary allies, condemned the US on Thursday for imposing sanctions on the Venezuelan regime. When asked whether he felt his political philosophy was closer to that of Tony Blair, a democratically elected Prime Minister, or Maduro, a socialist tyrant who has sent police and soldiers after his political opponents, Williams declined to answer.
Meanwhile Ken Livingstone, the former mayor of London who was suspended from the Labour party in 2016 for anti-semitic remarks, has gone further. Livingstone actually defended Maduro, dismissing reports of the arrests of the opposition leaders “propaganda”, and suggesting that the President should have executed his rivals – whom he called “oligarchs” – when he came to power.
The Labour party is in an ideological crisis. Most of its MPs and members are horrified by what is happening in Venezuela. But for a coterie of militants at its centre, endorsed by the leader himself, authoritarianism is acceptable – even celebrated – if it is committed in the name of socialism.
Read more: Corbyn and McDonnell's Venezuelan Britain