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THE Tories and their media allies are using the escalating crisis in Venezuela to attack Jeremy Corbyn — and their agenda is regime change, both at home and abroad.
“What [Hugo] Chavez did to Venezuela, Corbyn could do to Britain,” tweeted the Conservative press office recently, linking to a Telegraph piece with the same headline.
The Daily Mail — also linked to by Tory press officers — reminded readers that the Labour leader had once said that Chavez “showed us a different and better way of doing things — it’s called socialism,” before it added ominously that “every voter should remember those words — and be warned.”
Despite Corbyn clearly condemning “the violence that’s been done by any side, by all sides, in all this,” the Sun (also linked) wailed that his “defence of ruinous hard-left socialism in Venezuela was as craven and as blinkered as we imagined,” adding: “God help us all if he ever gets to use Britain as his guinea pig.”
Even Labour MPs are piling on the pressure — with high-profile critics bashing Corbyn for not blaming Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro directly for the violence.
Sheffield MP Angela Smith, who called Corbyn a “dead man walking” during last summer’s attempt to topple him, told her leader to “condemn the actions of the Venezuelan regime, which are a very serious threat to democracy in that country.”
Hyndburn MP Graham Jones, who has just started a new parliamentary group on Venezuela, claimed the ruling party had “destroyed an economy despite being oil rich, abused human rights and replaced democracy with authoritarianism backed by military might.”
This is straight out of the propaganda playbook. The international demonisation of Chavez started as soon as he won the presidency in 1998 — and Maduro has endured exactly the same treatment since 2013.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted earlier this month that Maduro was “acting like a dictator of an evil regime” — a clear signal that Britain would support a coup.
Of course, when Johnson became London mayor, he immediately cancelled his Labour predecessor’s solidarity oil deal with Venezuela that saw poor Londoners benefit from half-price bus travel.
So it’s especially depressing to see Labour MPs such as the Rhondda’s Chris Bryant tweeting: “Having visited Venezuela under Chavez and found it an authoritarian chaos, I’m perplexed why any democrat would defend Maduro.”
Perhaps, Chris, it’s because he’s the democratically elected president who, like Chavez, has fought to improve the lives of the poorest and weakest in society?
Or because opposition thugs backed by right-wing paramilitaries have spent the last four months — and much of the last 19 years — rioting, looting and burning down government buildings — even dousing “Chavistas” with petrol and setting them on fire?
Venezuela seems to be tragically sliding towards civil war, with US President Donald Trump as committed to regime change as was his Republican predecessor George W Bush.
Bush’s fingerprints are all over the failed 2002 coup, which saw CIA snipers kill both pro- and anti-government protesters to provide a pretext for military intervention.
Fortunately, rank-and-file soldiers stayed loyal to Chavez and refused to fire on unarmed civilians — unlike during the “Caracazo” riots in 1989, which saw over a thousand people massacred in the continent’s first uprising against IMF austerity.
The coup — and counter-coup, in which Chavez hid his hundred best soldiers underneath the presidential palace in preparation for his brief ouster — was a turning point in Latin American history, when the people struck a decisive blow against US imperialism.
Barack Obama, like his Democratic predecessor Bill Clinton, was happy
to buy Venezuela’s oil at a fair price, but the ruling Republicans have other ideas.
Without a hint of irony, Trump calls Maduro “a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator,” and on Friday threatened: “We have many options for Venezuela — and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option.”
But back to the Tory tweets. Like all good propaganda, there’s a kernel of truth buried amid the bullshit — in many ways Corbyn is indeed our Chavez.
Both were brought to national power against all the odds by popular, broad-based socio-political movements, shaking the Establishment to its core.
Corbyn might not yet be Prime Minister, but his two successful leadership campaigns were powered by grass-roots activism co-ordinated by what would become Momentum, the movement behind this year’s general election triumph which saw the Tories lose their parliamentary majority despite starting 20 points ahead in the polls.
Like Chavez, Corbyn is a political outsider who believes in a world based on peace, equality, solidarity and justice.
Like Chavez, he’s a leader who spontaneously inspires loyalty rather than relying on fear to enforce it.
Like Chavez, he’s consistently reached out to the political centre but been rewarded with constant demonisation and sabotage since day one.
Corbyn even responded to the Labour coup last year with his own counter-coup — which saw trade union allies pretending to go along with the plotters, only to switch their votes at the crucial meeting that decided whether the party leader could automatically defend his title.
Blairites share the Tory fear of a Corbyn premiership — partly because Jez stood up for Chavez while king Tony backed the 2002 coup against him.
Make no mistake, when Corbyn finally makes it to No 10 the ferocity of the attacks against his government — from capital flight and currency runs all the way to blackouts and blockades — will put Venezuela in the shade.
Former Labour MP Chris Mullin’s classic 1982 novel A Very British Coup should be required reading for anyone who wonders what happens when a committed socialist is elected PM.
In Venezuela, the government has survived because the people have been prepared to defend it — with their lives if necessary.
They know that, if the right regains power, it would mean the end of the social programmes that have provided free healthcare and affordable housing, not to mention eradicating illiteracy and malnutrition.
If we want to keep free healthcare in Britain or make our government build really affordable housing, then Corbynistas must be prepared to defend our leader from the attacks against him now and in the future.
With the US and British governments banging the Venezuelan war drum again, it feels like another coup could be on the cards — but hopefully the socialist movement there will be strong enough to see off the CIA again.
Leftwingers in Britain need to see through the propaganda and stand up for their comrades on the other side of the globe — both because it’s the right thing to do and because, one day soon, we might need some solidarity in return.
• Chat to Charley on Twitter: @charleyallan.
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