Corbyn Condemnation Fiasco Distracts From the Tragedy of Venezuela | Euan O'Connor

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Leader of the Opposition Jeremy Corbyn had come under fire from all sides (other than his most loyal left-wing supporters) over his failure to condemn Venezuela’s violent slide into autocracy under President Nicolás Maduro. In true Corbyn fashion, he responded by condemning violence ‘done by all sides’ in the embattled South American nation.

While it is true that a small number of opposition protests have spilled over into violence, this wishy-washy ‘a plague on both your houses’ blanket condemnation suggests a moral equivalence which is entirely false. The Maduro government is leading Venezuela into dictatorship, with the national guard and police firing tear gas at and even shooting those protesting and marching for freedom and democracy. As with any such brutal power grab, there have been widespread protests, of which some have, as previously stated, become violent, but it is hardly appropriate to suggest that these are equal. Juan Andrés Mejía of the opposition party Voluntad Popular (Popular Will) rejected Corbyn’s claims on the BBC News channel, saying that there was no comparison, that ‘violence has not been done by both sides’ and that ‘violence has been promoted by the government.’ Looking back into history, while naturally we reject violence as a means of protest in principle, we would never suggest that violent protests in opposition to a cruel regime make the opposition just as bad. There were violent protests in South Africa against apartheid, but it would be absurd to suggest that this made them and the racist government morally equivalent. It most certainly did not.

I’m sure that Corbyn does indeed specifically abhor the despot Maduro’s seizure of total power, but he seems entirely unable to single out one specific group or individual to condemn more strongly. Even if this two-sided approach is fair (and in this case I do not think it is), it is exasperating to Labour supporters like me who would like to see him put the issue to bed. In the 2017 general election campaign, Corbyn kept saying in response to questions about the IRA and his alleged support of them that he condemned violence from both sides in the Troubles. As someone born after the Good Friday Agreement, this seems fairly reasonable to me per se, given that, according to the Council on Foreign Relations, the unionist paramilitaries accounted for almost 30% of deaths in the Troubles. However, the IRA is reviled, and rightly so, by older voters who remember the horrifying attacks across Great Britain committed by the organisation. Furthermore, Corbyn was only being asked to condemn the IRA specifically because of his apparent past links to that terrorist organisation. His condemning both sides is somewhat reminiscent of Trump condemning interference in the election in favour both of him and of Hillary. We knew that Corbyn as a supporter of a United Ireland (an entirely reasonable position which I also hold, I should add) would condemn unionist violence, but the crux of the questions was whether he would condemn violence from the IRA, whose cause if not methods he supported and with whose leaders he has met and been photographed? This applies to the Maduro situation too: he was being specifically asked to condemn Maduro because he has previously expressed support for him and his governance of Venezuela, and because they are both solidly on the left of the political spectrum.

Many on the left have pointed out that Theresa May sold arms to the Saudis. I entirely agree with them that it is abhorrent to cosy up to an ultra-conservative theocracy which forbids women from driving, stones those who commit adultery and executes LGBTQ+ people. It is one of the things that disgusts me most about this government. Nonetheless, this is what Owen Jones himself would quite rightly call whataboutery if he took a step back and thought about it – there should be even more public outrage at May and the Tories’ selling weapons to such an awful regime than there already is and has been, but that is not relevant to Venezuela and doesn’t excuse Corbyn’s previous support for Maduro and his mealy-mouthed condemnation; what have we come to in this country if we are judging our political leaders based on how disgusting the regimes they have links to are?

Corbyn’s failure to specifically condemn Maduro is frustrating because it distracts from the real story, which is the violence and death in a country descending against the will of the people into the nightmare of dictatorship. It allows the press, especially the right-wing tabloids, to make Jeremy Corbyn the story, in other words to turn Venezuela’s sorry situation into a football for partisan point-scoring in Britain. This is outrageous, but until Corbyn comes out and condemns not just the violence but also its cause - the brutal power grab of the Venezuelan president – the story will continue to be about him.

Corbyn Condemnation Fiasco Distracts From the Tragedy of Venezuela | Euan O'Connor Corbyn Condemnation Fiasco Distracts From the Tragedy of Venezuela  | Euan O'Connor Reviewed by Student Voices on 11:45 Rating: 5

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