Venezuela: Where Have All the Leftists Gone? Daniel Benveniste, PhD, July 5, 2017
For nineteen years leaders of the North American Left have publicly defended the Chávez-Maduro regime in Venezuela. Many were at the forefront of the anti-war movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, the civil rights movement, and other progressive movements. They include: Noam Chomsky, Jesse Jackson, Oliver Stone, Sean Penn, Harry Belafonte, Mark Weisbrot, Jimmy Carter, Patrick Kennedy, Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Danny Glover, and Tom Hayden. Lately they’ve gone silent on Venezuela.
I am a left-leaning Democrat and I have admired many of these leaders over the decades. I am originally from San Francisco but lived in Caracas, Venezuela from 1999-2010 where I personally witnessed Hugo Chávez’s so-called “leftist” revolution. There was never anything leftist about Chávez’s authoritarian demagogic regime. It was, from the beginning, a strong man military regime riddled with corruption, lies, and violence.
The core progressive leftist agenda includes workers’ rights, strong unions, equitable distribution of wealth, protection of minority groups, a free press, independent democratic institutions, and a tax system that pays for government programs to ensure the provision of food, housing, education, childcare and health care for all. Chávez relentlessly attacked Venezuela’s labor unions, ignored union demonstrations, and when the oil industry went on strike he fired nineteen thousand oil workers, and brought in scab workers from Cuba, the Middle East, and North Africa. Although the old oligarchy was and the new chavista oligarchy is obscenely wealthy, there is more poverty now than there was before Chávez came into office. Chávez supported minority groups that agreed with him, but those that differed with him were considered traitors, enemies of the revolution, and puppets of the United States.
Chávez was opposed by Venezuela’s communist party Bandera Roja; the socialist party Movimiento al Socialismo; and other leftist political parties such as Causa R, Izquierda Democrática, Polo Democrático, Alianza Democrática, Movimiento República, La Base Decide, Solidaridad Independiente, and Democrácia Renovadora. He was opposed by leading leftists such as Pompeyo Márquez and Teodoro Petkoff, both of whom spent years as leftist guerrilla fighters in the Venezuelan jungles. Chávez’s leftist political mentor, Luis Miquilena, abandoned him and described Chávez’s confused political philosophy as a “minestrone.” Chávez was never a leftist and the Venezuelan opposition, which clearly includes the right wing, also includes the center and many left-wing parties.
The Venezuelan press has been attacked with violence and trumped-up legal charges. National and international press associations have been harshly critical of the Chávez-Maduro regime for years. Chávez’s apologists like to remind us of his social programs, but these programs are famously inefficient, riddled with corruption and their achievements are always exaggerated.
In Venezuela today, there are extreme shortages of food, medicine, and more. People are literally dying of hunger and for lack of medications. The Venezuelan murder rate is the highest in the world at 28,000 per year. The Venezuelan military-governmental alliance is deeply involved in narco-trafficking. Armed robbery, looting, black market purchases and trash-picking have become strategies for simply obtaining groceries.
Venezuelans are now into the fourth month of open rebellion with demonstrations in the street every day. Protesters are carrying a four-point set of demands:
1) Open a humanitarian aid corridor for food and medicines to be let into the country;
2) Free all political prisoners;
3) Call for general elections this year; and
4) Establish judicial independence and respect for the Constitution and the National Assembly.
The government has responded to these demands by mounting a repressive violent military operation; taking over 380 political prisoners; causing well over 1000 injuries and killing 89 people (as of July 5th). The National Guard and Police routinely attack protesters with clubs, water-cannons, tear gas, shotguns and pistols. There are currently 309 political prisoners in jail, many of whom are being brutally tortured as you read this. The North American left, that previously supported Chávez and Maduro, has become curiously silent while young people demanding freedom are being slaughtered in the streets of Venezuela.
I call upon the leaders of the North American Left to stand up now, shout out loud and call out the Maduro government for what it is—a violent dictatorial regime. It just might help in bringing the whole bloody mess to an end.
Daniel Benveniste, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Bellevue, Washington.
He is also the author of The Venezuelan Revolution: A Critique from the Left.
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The Venezuelan National Guard trying to stop the opposition protests with tear gas, water canons, shotguns and pistols.