Today, after a two day meeting in Punta Cana, the Socialist International issued a statement demanding that the Venezuelan government release “all the students and political prisoners, and that it cease the persecution of dissenters”. The organization – made up of socialist parties from all over the world -also asked the Venezuelan government to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis facing the country, and called on both sides to make honest attempts through dialogue to reach a conclusion. The organization also urged the government to disarm the pro-government armed groups (colectivos armados) which Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have both blamed for deaths.
The Toronto Star published an article yesterday on Maria Corina Machado’s visit to Toronto this last week. The article quotes Maria Corina as saying that the crisis in Venezuela “isn’t a left-right issue”, echoing the arguments she made at her talk on Thursday at the University of Toronto that this struggle is about fundamental human rights.
It’s not particularly surprising that the Socialist International has chosen to distance itself from the actions of the Venezuelan government over the last few weeks. The nature of the political polarization in Venezuela is such that the word “socialist” is a dirty one, similar to how it is in the United States. In the case of Venezuela, this is because Hugo Chavez rode into the country’s spotlight on a so-called socialist revolution. These many years later, with the country plunged into chaos, it’s not difficult to understand why some Venezuelans might flinch at the word “socialist”.
One of the end results of this association is that socialism becomes a kind of “bad guy”. In other words, the kinds of activities the Venezuelan government engages in – such as the systemic violation of human rights – and its disastrous stewardship of the country become synonymous with socialism in general. This is understandable, but of course, wrong. Socialism thrives in many parts of the world, most notably in parts of the world that do quite well for themselves. The Scandinavian countries, for example, and Canada have strong socialist policies that are central to their national identities and pillars of their success as nations.
In other words, socialism itself is not a bad thing. Not everything the Venezuelan government does is done in the name of socialism. The Socialist International, embarrassed by its unstable cousin, have seen it fit to step up to the microphone to say, “Look, we’re not all like this, really!”. Given Maduro’s penchant to verbally assault foreign governments or agencies whenever they speak ill of Venezuela, it will be interesting to see how he reacts to these news.