Friday, 2 September 2011

For your entertainment, an update on the delightful Mr Chávez

I know it’s starting to become a bit of an obsession, but I can’t help myself. Since my letter some time back asking why supposedly respectable trade unionists from the TUC were giving backing to the anti-democratic, constitution-twisting President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, a few more nuggets have surfaced:

  • A few weeks ago, Chávez decided to repatriate all gold reserves held abroad (as well as, at the same time, nationalising the entire domestic and foreign gold-mining industry). When concerns were expressed on how the treasury might find space for it all on its return, he kindly offered the basement of the presidential palace as a suitable location. The aim suggested by Reuters, to help prop up the economy ahead of next year’s elections, seems more than plausible, however I am sure that there is also complete separation between that fine democratic leader and the Venezuelan state on this one, and that the gold reserves would be perfectly safe there from, say, suddenly disappearing into a Swiss bank account.
  • I am indebted to the very knowledgeable Alek Boyd for pointing out to me that Ken Livingstone’s so-called 2007 “oil deal” with Chávez to subsidise London transport was, in fact, nothing of the sort (I was away when it happened and missed all the detail). It was a cash deal, in which oil never changed hands, in return for expertise provided to Venezuela, but most importantly, a propaganda coup for Chávez in legitimising his nasty regime. In other words, Chávez was very happy to fritter away $32m dollars per year from his developing country’s public purse as a PR exercise. What Ken later described in the Guardian as “a piece of mindless vandalism” by Boris Johnson, in canning the deal on taking office, was nothing less than an entirely fair and just action to stop the Venezuelan taxpayer pointlessly subsidising London commuters. Thanks to Alex also for this piece, detailing a $29 billion hole which has apparently been found in a government fund which is generally used at the whim of the president. If my calculations are correct, that'd be about 10% of GDP.
  • All of this, however, pales into insignificance with the increasingly insane pronouncements of the man himself, who was recently in hospital for cancer surgery. Unable to deal with the defeat of his friend Colonel Gaddafi, he suggests in this video that the taking of Libya's Green Square was in fact a fabrication, filmed with actors in Qatar. (For film buffs, a kind of Middle Eastern Wag The Dog, if you like, but without Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.) Even if you don’t understand Spanish, it’s worth watching the video just for the baffled looks of the other people around the table as he utters these words. (Hat-tip: Harry's Place)
Although you have to admit that some of this is pretty funny, it is at the same time no joke for normal Venezuelans, whose economy is being destroyed, as well as for democrats and supporters of human rights everywhere. Demagogues usually start making pronouncements which make no sense at all as the country slides into autocracy and chaos and the prospect of repression and bloodshed starts to hover, however faintly, on the horizon. We have only to look to Idi Amin, Robert Mugabe or that self-same Gaddafi for examples. Chávez is, after all, a very significant regional power with some decent oil wealth and an army.

All of which begs the question: when it is so clear where all this is ultimately heading, why on earth do supposedly sensible members of the Labour movement continue to defend, and support, this monster that they have, in some small way, helped to create?


  1. Shall I bring this up with Vevak on my forthcoming trip to Iran?

  2. Nah. They're probably good mates.


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