Last week international relations acquired a certain lunatic tinge, not least because of the irrational exchanges between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un of North Korea. But the irrationalities were not confined to the Asian theatre; they edged a little closer to home as well.
First, as we reported on Wednesday, there was the utterly incomprehensible statement issued by the trade union body, FITUG, whose largest member is, of course, GAWU, the sugar union. Exactly what kind of fever seized their collective brain and caused them to issue a statement on Venezuela which belonged in a fantasy universe is not something easily comprehended. And these are supposed to be sober union representatives, accustomed to coldly assessing situations which would affect the workers and recommending sensible responses reflecting their interest.
But there was nothing sensible about their press release on the Constituent Assembly of Venezuela: “As we understand it,” they bleated, “the resort to a Constituent Assembly was yet another democratic effort by the Venezuelan President at resolving the prolonged violence and living difficulties that have beset the country and its working people particularly. The threat that the existing situation, instigated by extremists locally and financed by certain external forces, can deteriorate and lead to a civil war is ever-present. That is why countries of influence within the region and which sincerely subscribe to democracy, its norms and institutions should, especially, show support for such efforts taken by President Maduro”.
Whatever else they know about – and if this statement is anything to go by, it doesn’t sound like overly much – they certainly have no grasp of the principles of democracy. In addition, they seem to have been completely bedazzled by those paragons of democratic practice such as Russia, China, Cuba and the like, who have been giving vocal backing to President Nicolás Maduro.
Apparently, FITUG never noticed – or decided to ignore what they did notice – that Mr Maduro lost the legislative elections, and since then has done everything possible to emasculate the National Assembly so it cannot discharge its constitutional function. The arrest of opposition political leaders and others on trumped up charges seems to have escaped their attention as well. And as for the extraordinary claim that the protests – a word they manage to avoid using, instead substituting the word ‘violence’ – are instigated by “extremists” and financed by “external forces”, one wonders if they have ever watched a newsreel or read a news report in the course of last year. (If they are really that allergic to western reports they could always have recourse to Al Jazeera, which has followed events in Venezuela fairly conscientiously.)
And how can they not know about the violence inflicted by the Venezuelan police and the National Guard on the opposition protestors, and the torture to which some of them have been subject; even the United Nations has heard about that. More than 120 people have been killed (very largely by the government side), an unknown number injured, and thousands arrested. Many people are on the barricades because they can’t get food, although the political aim is an election, which is not, one would have thought, a particularly undemocratic objective. In any case, are the unions which make up FITUG – GAWU in particular – presuming to tell us that peaceful demonstrations are not acceptable in a democracy? And make no mistake, these were peaceful demonstrations when they started out, and they were met with violence from the police. Government violence has only increased exponentially – but then our unions don’t want to know that.
If it is the case that the FITUG unions are now opposed to non-violent protests, they had better issue a press release on their new position quickly, so the public and their own workers can be apprised of their volte face, and their divorce from the age-old traditions of unionism and democracy.
Since the unions in question are unfamiliar with the Venezuelan constitution, they presumably do not know that the Constituent Assembly has effectively been imposed on the people of Venezuela without the legal requirements being observed, and will now have full powers for the next two years. It can sweep away the National Assembly if it so desires (and presumably it will); remove any officials it chooses (which it will); pass any legislation it wants (which it will certainly do) and postpone gubernatorial elections (which it may or may not do, since it has a whole arsenal at its disposal to control these). In other words, President Maduro by means of a new-fangled coup has become a full-blown autocrat. And FITUG in its ignorance, perversity or naïvety seems to regard him as an outstanding exemplar of the rule of law.
It is notable that this strange statement has emanated not from a political entity, but from a trade union body, which, after all, does not need to say anything at all on the matter, whatever its views. One is left to speculate, therefore, given the close political associations of its largest member, GAWU, whether it is really deputising for a political party (or even an element within a political party) which cannot speak out on its own account because of the border controversy, but which wants to relay public support for Mr Maduro.
President Maduro, of course, like his predecessor before him, has tried to link the opposition to his government to the machinations of the US, despite the fact that his problems are entirely internally generated. However, American interference in our politics in the early 1960s, is a story which shows no sign of disappearing into the void where Freedom House is concerned, and the doyens inhabiting that edifice will automatically be sympathetic to the Venezuelan version. This is more particularly so when it is backed by three old friends like Cuba, Russia and China, never mind that they have their own economic reasons for supporting Miraflores. The words in the FITUG statement relating to financing by external forces, therefore, have particular resonance in the PPP.
But the world is sometimes quite diabolical, because along comes President Trump on Friday threatening military intervention in Venezuela. He must have taken everyone in Washington by surprise, and even the Pentagon, which according to Reuters said that insinuations by Caracas of a planned US invasion were “baseless”. As for the rest of Latin America, they must have let out a collective gasp of exasperation, particularly those countries which recently met in Lima and issued a strong statement on Venezuela. Peru has even expelled the Venezuelan ambassador, while Argentina has invalidated the award which former president Cristina Kirchner conferred on Maduro.
One cannot seriously think that Mr Trump has any intention of invading our western neighbour, but by his words he has given a gift to President Maduro, whose wild claims in the past now appear to have been validated. For the rest of the hemisphere this all sounds like a replay of American gun-boat diplomacy, and far from augmenting Washington’s power on the continent, it will diminish it.
While the scale of the potential damage that they can do is vastly different and the universes in which they operate are very far apart in terms of size and influence, both President Trump and FITUG would be well advised to do the same thing: to wit, stop talking so much ‒ or in FITUG’s case, stop issuing statements on international matters.