A selection from 20 years of Al’s award winning column Nordicity, illustrated by Heidi Marion.
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Canada makes itself uselful
4 February, 2019
In April of 1982, British prime minister Margaret Thatcher’s career was on the ropes. Her tax cuts for the rich hadn’t turned the country’s economy around as promised, and with elections coming up, she had no card left to play except highly unpopular spending cuts and ‘austerity’ for the not-rich. And then, like sunlight bursting through clouds, history handed her a war.
Strutting and posing as the hero who saved a free British island from an evil South American ‘junta’ (pronounced ‘joonter’) Thatcher shot from the depths to the heights of popularity. She was swept to power in the 1983 election, and for better or worse had free reign to pursue her right-wing agenda until 1989, when the Conservative pack saw the Iron Lady wounded in the polls, and turned on their former saviour.
Today, one year before the 2020 presidential election, US president Donald Trump is in much the same trouble Thatcher faced in ‘82. Unable to follow through on his election promises, his White House emptying into the prison system, Trump’s chances for a second term are looking thin at best. Without doubt the president’s political handlers are looking to Nicolas Maduro, with an assist from Justin Trudeau, to hand their candidate the victory the Argentine generals once gave to Thatcher.
Venezuela has been the target of US and corporate aggression in various forms since Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999. Nobody seriously challenged the legitimacy of the Chavez government, but when he nationalized oil companies and began the redistribution of wealth to Venezuela’s desperate poor, Chavez earned the enmity of the capitalist world. The US and its allies imposed sanctions that would have starved the country if not for its vast reserves of oil and gas. Corporations withheld staples, creating false shortages.
Well-off Venezuelans, who stood to lose the most if the Bolivarian movement succeeding in the downward redistribution of wealth, have been demonstrating in the streets since the beginning, their actions well covered by Western media, who have often seemed blind to larger counter demonstrations by the Bolivarian revolution’s poorer supporters. Now that the price of oil has been manipulated downward, Venezuela is no longer proof against such tactics. People are in desperate need, and the worse it gets, the more Venezuelans blame their own government.
It may indeed be true that Maduro is corrupt, that his election was fraudulent, his grip on power brutal, though it’s all but impossible to sort out the accusations and counter accusations at this point. A country under siege often does descend into corruption and authoritarianism. But the evidence against the Venezuelan president is weaker than the case against many of his right-wing detractors in Latin America. Why are we embarked on a plan to depose Maduro, and not any number of corrupt Latin American leaders? The most obvious answer is that, from the corporate point of view, their corruption is good for business, and his is not.
Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that Venezuela is in a critical state. The economy is in turmoil, the people desperate. The question for Canadians is, what is our government’s role in that turmoil? Is it appropriate for Canada to play the ‘honest broker’ of the Lima Group, and for that matter, why does the association of anti-Bolivarian American states require an honest broker from the North? For an answer, let’s take a look at some of the other countries in the group.
Argentina’s right wing president Mauricio Macri came to power in 2015 after elections in which ballot boxes were burned unopened. He has presided over runaway inflation that has made life desperate for his country’s poor, though it hasn’t harmed corporate profits. Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, another pro-US right-winger widely accused of election fraud, is mired in financial scandal. Billionaire Chilean president Sebastian Pinera faces daily mass protests over growing inequality. Honduran protests over the fraudulent election of president Juan Orlando Hernandez have been brutally repressed. Hernandez doesn’t even bother to deny that his campaign stole $140,000 US from the healthcare budget, allegedly resulting in thousands of deaths due to lack of medicine in hospitals.
The list goes on, but suffice it to say that the Lima Group could really use a nice clean country like Canada on its side when it tries to paint Venezuela as the rogue nation of the Americas. When the US and its satellites advocate for regime change in a sovereign country on the grounds of corruption and election fraud, it would be best if the spokesperson for the alliance had clean hands itself. Clearly the US has issues to deal with in that regard, and so do most of its right-wing cronies in the Americas.
Canada has quite a lot of international political capital to spend, based on our reputation for free and fair elections and a strong system for curtailing government corruption. The question for us now is, should we be spending it in Venezuela at the behest of the US and its puppet states? If Trump chooses Venezuela as his personal Falkland Islands, it will look better for him if ‘all diplomatic channels’ have been tried and failed. Justin Trudeau is currently in the process of checking that box for him.