Which British politician would be loopy enough to defend the Venezuelan regime as it guns down protesters and arrests opposition politicians? Need a clue? Didn’t think so. This week, Ken Livingstone – once an adviser to the late Hugo Chavez – said that the reason for the country’s woes was that Chavez ‘did not execute the establishment elite’ when he came to power. For good measure, he added:
‘America has got a long record of undermining any Left-wing government as well… it’s not all just down to the problems of the [Venezuelan] government.’
While reporting recently on the appalling collapse of that country, I found myself staring into the barrel of a gun held by a masked teenager, high on cannabis, in one of Caracas’ lawless suburbs. American meddling in action, eh, Ken? Or a Chavista thug belatedly mistaking me for a member of the elite? Support for Venezuela’s disastrous neo-Socialist regime among Corbynites has become a bitter joke.
Years ago, when Venezuela defied economic gravity by exploiting its massive oil reserves while nationalising all profit-making enterprise, the hard Left lauded it as proof that – in the words of Diane Abbott – ‘another way is possible’. Now that oil prices have fallen, however, the country has been plunged into chaos. Since becoming Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who as recently as 2015 marched in solidarity with Venezuela, has gone strangely quiet on the issue, leaving good old Red Ken to take the flak.
To most people, Venezuela provides conclusive proof that undiluted Socialism can never work. But it’s only when you spend some time there on the ground that the fundamental immorality of the hard Left hits home.
On my first day in Caracas, I saw parents rioting after they had queued all night at supermarkets with empty shelves. The next morning, I watched middle class professionals search for food in piles of rotting rubbish. That evening, I interviewed young women who were offering sex in exchange for nappies for their newborn babies.
At the El Algodonal hospital, where even the toilet roll holders were empty, I met a five-month-old baby called Anna-Gabriela who was dying from asthma and bronchitis due to lack of medication. She was not the only one. On my final day in the country, I witnessed a delivery man called Jaime Otrupo carrying out a traditional healing ritual for his seven-year-old daughter, Yansaire, who had leukaemia. He had run out of money for her chemotherapy. In an immediate sense, this was no longer about Socialism or Capitalism. It was about the fundamentals of competent governance. Which brings me to the encounter with that gun-toting teenager in the slum.
I had been walking through the narrow alleyways of western Caracas on my way to interview the boss of one of the city’s most notorious kidnap gangs. The photographer and I were jumped by about five armed teenagers, bundled into a breeze block room and searched. Then we were forced to sit on steel chairs amid the smell of marijuana until the boss was ready for his interview. It worked out OK in the end. But what struck me was this: the terror that stalks Venezuela is directly attributable to its government’s deleterious incompetence.
Caracas is the most murderous city on earth outside a warzone, with about 120 homicides per 100,000 citizens. By comparison, America’s most violent city, St Louis, reports just half that number. The slum in which I was jumped lies in a part of the city known as a ‘peace zone’, set up as part of a bizarre, Leftist initiative called ‘Movement for Peace and Life’. Under the scheme, law enforcement agencies unilaterally withdrew from the parts of the city most prone to gang violence. The idea, it seems, was not to antagonise the criminals in the peace zones by, well, policing them. Entirely predictably, left to their own devices, the criminal groups formed ‘mega gangs’, terrorising hundreds of thousands of citizens daily.
Today, police are only able to protect about nine per cent of the capital’s population. When I went on patrol with an armed police motorcycle unit, their station was surrounded by patrol cars riddled with bullet holes and bomb blasts.
In 2015, when Corbyn was taking to the streets of London in support of the Venezuelan regime, the peace zone project was well underway. ‘Chavez showed us that there is a different and a better way of doing things,’ the future Labour leader said. ‘It’s called Socialism, it’s called social justice, and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.’
I suppose, in a way, it is funny. But it is also deadly serious. For all their rhetoric about concern for the poor, the true depravity of the hard-Left is this: their real priority will only ever be their ideology.
Jake Wallis Simons is Associate Global Editor of the Daily Mail Online