Violence. Dictatorship. Mass-murder.
That’s the general impression you’d get from listening to the mainstream media narrative right now, on Venezuela. In the midst of such turbulence in our own national politics, spare time is rare to develop a balanced understanding of what’s actually going in other parts of the world. We just have to accept what we’re told at face value.
Inflation is above 740%. 83% of people are living in poverty. Three-quarters of people have lost an average of 8.7 kilograms, due to food shortages. The Latin American country is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Consequently, mass protests have erupted - both in support of, and opposition to the socialist government.
It’s important to get some background on this. Venezuela is no stranger to economic difficulty. Comparable crises were frequent throughout the late 20th Century, often under conservative governments. The working classes, in their anger towards establishment politicians, elected the unapologetic socialist, Hugo Chavez, in 1998.
Thanks to mass investment in welfare, education, and healthcare, under his leadership, the country enjoyed a period of huge prosperity. Enrolment and equality soared. Poverty plummeted. To this day, four years on from his death in 2013, he remains an overwhelmingly popular figure amongst the public.
However, those social reforms were unsustainable. Chavez had fortunate timing - from the moment he was elected, global oil prices soared, giving his administration plentiful funds to embark on their popular programme.
He failed to tackle the economy’s dependence on those fossil fuels, and save up for a rainy day. Incidentally, the same blunder successive Tory and Labour governments have made in the UK. The instant current President Nicolas Maduro took over from his late mentor, global oil prices dropped, through no fault of his own.
An important point to note here is that it wasn’t Chavez's social programmes which led to Venezuela’s eventual collapse. Under his presidency, the country’s economy improved. The fatal flaw was the finance he backed those programmes up with.
A free-market neoliberal government would likely have made the same miscalculation. You could easily make the case that neither Chavez nor Maduro bear responsibility for the country’s decline, but rather that the blame falls upon the oil extractors in the US who have over-produced, hence leading to a surplus of supply and fall in price.
That brings us back to the present day. People are suffering. The opposition have taken to the streets, with protests almost daily. The authorities are clamping down.
A humanitarian crisis has morphed into a democratic one, with regular elections delayed by a year, the supreme court attempting a blatant power-grab, and Maduro announcing a rewrite of the constitution widely regarded as rigged in his favour. No-one bears responsibility for those scandals other than the President himself.
However, the official opposition presents no alternative.
There is an electoral alliance under the banner ‘MUD’. Its leading figures oppose many of the social reforms which lifted those vulnerable people out of poverty in the first place. Most of them were involved in the 2002 anti-democratic coup, which failed in its aim to overthrow Chavez. It always has been, and continues to be, funded by the US Government, who have given them $60 million, with the sole mission of overthrowing the socialists.
Much has also been made of those killed amidst the unrest. At the time of writing, the death toll currently stands at 73. Obviously, no one side is responsible for all these problems - both the government and opposition share blame. Just last month, a video emerged of anti-Maduro activists burning someone alive. The footage is harrowing.
Despite the complex picture, the mainstream media obsessively demonises the socialist administration, while turning a blind eye to the startling flaws of the opposition.
They paint the situation as black and white, when both sides have atrocities to answer for. Democracy versus dictatorship, when both have a history of suppressing the will of the population. People versus power, when in fact just 49% identify with the opposition, even in the midst of widespread famine.
An impressive mass of support no doubt, but far from the overwhelming majority portrayed in the media. Most people remain sceptical of the neoliberal MUD and their motives.
The simple fact is that there are no good guys in Venezuela. Just like every other crisis in the world, the situation is a complicated one, with dozens of factors at play. The people there need genuine liberation from their suffering - a government who will both stabilise the economy and invest in the population.
That’s something that won’t be achieved with mindless support of an opposition which would only deepen their pain.