Saturday, 30 April 2011

One last word on Chávez (I promise)

Further to my letter to the TUC, the response to it and my own response to that, I just wanted to add a final thought from Denis MacShane MP, the former Minister of State at the Foreign Office, who you might imagine to be well-informed on such matters (in 2002, he had a long meeting with Chávez in Caracas, as then minister for Latin America).

Denis, who last weekend was kind enough to retweet my letter to to Brendan Barber, wrote this Guardian article about Chávez  in 2009, which I quoted in my letter to Jennie Bremner of the Unite union and which you may have lost in the rather long response, so I repeat it here:
Unless you read the Spanish press, you are unlikely to have picked up his words of support to the Belarus strongman Lukashenko or his endorsement of Robert Mugabe. The Open Democracy website has a long piece by the Mexican leftist Enrique Krauze on Chávez's links to antisemitic ideologues in Venezuela”.
It is certainly worth pointing out that those who are not in regular touch with the Spanish-speaking media are not constantly inundated with film or newspaper coverage of Chávez saying mad things (being married to a Spaniard and a reader of Spanish media, I can tell you he comes up quite often). It is therefore possible from the UK to wilfully blind yourself to the state of his awful regime, simply because he’s not in the news that much.

We might also note the highly significant fact that the Zapatero government of Spain, usually way to the left of the Labour Party on most things, has no time for Chávez. Neither, as far as I know, does the mainstream UGT, the biggest Spanish union. Now, why might that be? Quite simply, they are better-informed than the British trade union movement.

If you needed any final proof on Chavez, you need look no further than his comments last week in support of that great, er, statesman and democrat, President Assad of Syria, currently in the process of brutally putting down democratic dissent in his own country.

The worrying thing about all of this is not so much that there are elements of the Labour Party and movement who still, against overwhelming evidence to the contrary, insist on supporting this demagogue. There have always been fringe elements in both and there always will be, just like the Tories have their own fringe right. 

These are not complex arguments, like about how far the state should be rolled back or not vis-a-vis the private sector. These are arguments which are not really up for debate; where to support the opposite is to to be wifully in denial about some basic facts, or to take refuge in propaganda, conspiracy theories or moral relativism.

But what has changed is this: the TUC is a mainstream body. Ken Livingstone is a candidate for the mainstream position of Mayor of London. Unite and GMB are mainstream trade unions. Simply put, it is a matter of some concern that they are all still showing support for Chávez, because it signals the real, if still remote, possibility of a return to the “loony left” politics of the 1980s – a politics which has been safely asleep in the mainstream left for nearly twenty years.

Let’s hope it’s not that, then.


  1. MacShane never replied to me but did some good work on a hobby-horse of mine - men's anonymity in rape trials.

  2. I see. Think he's a good guy, certainly talks sense on foreign policy.


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