Getting redbaited on Venezuela

We could spend hours talking about Venezuela, so we outlined the relevant points in order of importance. We’ll talk about as many as time permits.

The US is already at war with Venzuela

In war, the objective is to kill as many people as possible to force the enemy to submit. Before storming an area, a siege can weaken its defenders’ ability to fight, making it easier to capture.

US sanctions are siege warfare. They are already killing ordinary Venezuelans, and are in fact designed to cause as much death and suffering as possible.

Maduro is making political hay out of this; he can direct peoples’ anger towards the US, absolving himself of contributing to their suffering. Furthermore, this justifies his own authoritarianism. This has always been the effect of economic sanctions; it strengthens, rather than weakens authoritarians.

People who support sanctions claim to be concerned about ordinary Venezuelans. Don’t believe them. Sanctions are killing people and are wrong.

Venezuela is no threat to the US whatsoever

This should go without saying.

Maduro is not worthy of your allegiance

It is a natural human reaction to take sides. If two sides fight, we naturally think that one must be bad and one must be good.

But US sanctions do not make Maduro a good guy. Maduro is an authoritarian. He has attempted to seize power he could not win legitimately in an election.

Maduro is not a socialist. He does not even pretend to be a socialist. He does not even use socialist rhetoric; his most recent campaign slogan was the laughably centrist “We Are Venezuela.” Even the conservative Wall Street Journal admits that Maduro is not a socialist or even pretending to be.

It is not your job to defend Chavez

Chavismo held that Venezuela’s natural resources–mostly, its oil–ought to enrich ordinary Venezuelans, not transnational corporations. So, Chavez nationalized oil production and used that income to fund health, education, and poverty reduction. The results were incredible–more on that below–but Chavistas had to know that once oil prices fell, the social spending would have to be cut.

Compare Venezuela to Norway. Norway also benefited from tremendous oil reserves. But Norway used oil revenues to create publicly-owned companies; the jobs created lifted many Norwegians out of poverty and the tax revenue and dividends from those new companies funded health, education, and poverty reduction programs. This was a much better, more sustainable form of development and idea of socialism: use oil revenues to buy productive capital, held publicly. Once oil revenues fall, that productive capital can pick up the slack.

Chavismo might be socialism, but relying on unstable commodities to pay for social spending–let alone earth-destroying fossil fuels–is not a form of socialism that deserves our allegiance.

Don’t respond to redbaiting; make the redbaiters respond to you

The left has the best ideas. We will always win in an honest debate. The right and center have no argument against Medicare for All, free college tuition, strengthening Social Security and public education, etc. So, instead of having a debate they know they will lose, they try to deflect people’s attention by talking about inflation in Venezuela or Soviet gulags. This is called redbaiting.

Redbaiters will not listen to a nuanced take on Venezuela. Don’t give it to them.

Tell them that Wisconsin’s uninsurance rate is about 5%. If we brought that down to 0% by instituting Badgercare for All, how would this allow a Nicolas Maduro-style authoritarian seize the reigns of power in Wisconsin? If we instituted Badgercare for All, how many months would pass before a Nicolas Maduro-style authoritarian rose to power in Wisconsin? 6? 12? 18?

Ask redbaiters what they think about Medicare for All. Ask them if they think it is right that people die because their GoFundMe page didn’t raise the $1000 they needed to pay for insulin, or if it’s right that people lose their home because their child gets cancer, or that grievously injured people beg bystanders not to call an ambulance because they can’t afford the bill. Ask them why they want to talk about a tiny country that is no threat to the US whatsoever when Americans are dying by the thousands of treatable causes.

It’s the same play; even the actors are the same

Aggressive US foreign policy in Latin America has been a disaster. US intervention in Guatemala led to a brutal, half-century-long civil war that killed more than 200,000; in El Salvador, a more than two-decades-long civil war that killed nearly 100,000; military dictatorships and an end to democracy in Brazil, Chile, and Honduras; etc.

Now, the very same people who started these catastrophic wars and orchestrated the coups of these Latin American dictators–eg, John Bolton and Elliot Abrams–are designing American policy towards Venezuela. Should we really believe what they say about the dangers posed by Maduro? Or is it more likely that these people want what they have always wanted: regime change for the sake of regime change.

If you liked Russian meddling in the US elections, you’ll love American meddling in Venezuelan elections

The American political system and media still has not calmed down about Russian interference via social media during the American presidential elections in 2016, even though these efforts were ham-fisted and almost certainly made negligible difference. They should be outraged; it is not right for anyone to interfere in free elections, whether that is an anonymous billionaire buying elections while hiding behind a super-PAC or a different country manipulating people through social media.

But if it’s not right for the Russians to buy some targeted ads and use fake accounts to boost fake news in order to influence American elections, why is it right for the US to entirely fund the Venezuelan opposition? Imagine if it came to light that the entire Tea Party movement was funded by Russia; that is the equivalent of what we did in Venezeula–except that the Venezuela opposition regularly threatened violence and staged a violent coup. Indeed, the US sponsored a military coup that totally upended the democratic system in 2002; that was rapidly reversed by outraged citizens.

Carter: It would be easier to rig an election in the US than in Venezuela

Maduro has clearly subverted the democratic system of Venezuela. Chavez never did. There were instances where Chavez lost an election or a referendum, and he respected the result. Venezuela’s elections are so secure that Jimmy Carter stated that it would be easier to rig an election in the US than in Venezuela.

This matters because the media narrative since the 2000s was that Chavez was massively unpopular in Venezuela but was rigging elections. This is clearly untrue; under Chavez, Venezuelan elections were among the freest and fairest in the entire world. If Chavez really was unpopular, why did Chavez and Chavistas keep winning elections at all levels of government?

Chavismo’s poverty reduction was extraordinary

Prior to Chavez, nearly a quarter of Venezuelans lived in crippling, $2 per day poverty. Under Chavez, extreme poverty fell 70% and total poverty fell 50%. Unemployment was also cut in half under Chavez. This performance absolutely dwarfs extreme poverty reduction in countries following the neoliberal development model. Unimaginable amounts of human suffering were alleviated and prevented because of Chavismo. Outside of China, there reductions in extreme poverty were not matched elsewhere during that time.

As explained above, this could only last as long as oil prices remained high and was not a sustainable development model.

Warhawks rely on binaries

If you are against invading Iraq, then you must think Saddam Hussein is a really great guy, or you have blood on your hands because he is free to continue operating his torture chambers.

Of course, we know what happened. Hussein was a monster, but military intervention was a far worse evil than Saddam Hussein ever could have been.

Being against military intervention in Venezuela means just that: you are against military intervention. Do not let hawks make bad faith arguments that being against military intervention means you support Nicolas Maduro. Military intervention is wrong and will create worse problems than the problems it was (ostensibly) supposed to solve.

The media has greatly exaggerated economic mismanagement of Venezuela

Now, things really are as bad as described. But this article from a few years ago compares the media’s sensationalist “hell on earth” descriptions of Venezuela to the actual facts on the ground. Remember that under Chavez extreme poverty fell by 70%.