There are important lessons to be learned from what has happened in Venezuela. But we won't learn them as long as the British press uses it as a political footballby Ian Dunt / August 4, 2017 / Leave a comment
Events in Venezuela are covered in the British press as if we were football supporters backing our respective side. The left promoted Hugo Chavez, so now it either keeps silent or, worse, repeats government propaganda. The right wants to use Venezuela to show how flawed the left’s moral judgement is and how it would act in power in Britain.
I’m a mixture of British, Guatemalan and Lebanese, but my mum’s side of the family still lived in Guatemala City when I was growing up. We’d visit every year. My political education was British and Latin. The hate figures of my formative political years included Rios Montt, the Guatemala president, as well as Margaret Thatcher.
In Latin American politics, your emotional base camp is pitched at a different altitude. The stakes are higher. Mostly it’s the poverty. But it’s not just that. It’s that every attempt to tackle that poverty is met with tyranny.
In 1954, a moderate Guatemalan president called Jacobo Árbenz was overthrown in a coup carried out by the CIA after he tried to introduce agrarian reform. He was replaced by the military dictatorship of Castillo Armas. He survived, which is unusual in Latin coups, but was humiliated at the airport by being forced to strip naked in front of the TV cameras.
Four decades of civil war followed, as leftist guerillas took on the government. It culminated in the genocide of the Maya. The slaughter was systematic and extraordinarily cruel. They targeted the children and the women, inflicting terrible levels of sexual torture and mutilation. These atrocities, which killed tens of thousands, were carried out by a US-backed Guatemalan army, using US-training. They were diligently documented by Bishop Juan José Gerardi in his crucial report, Nunca Mas. He was beaten to death in his garage on the day of its publication.
The Guatemalan story is particularly awful, but it’s the same basic story across the region, from Nicaragua to Chile. That’s the backdrop. That’s the emotional baggage you carry with you when talking about Latin American politics.
At first, I backed Chavez
When Chavez took power, he was like a superhero: a dashing military officer committed to helping the poor. He was elected president in 1998 and then again in…