NY Times Opinion: Where are the liberals on Venezuela?

Bret Stephens has an opinion piece at the NY Times today asking why the American left seems to have so little interest in a human rights cause happening right here in our own hemisphere.

Every generation of campus activists embraces a worthy foreign-policy cause: Ending apartheid in South Africa; stopping ethnic cleansing in the Balkans; rescuing Darfur from starvation and genocide. And then there’s the perennial — and perennially unworthy — cause of “freeing” Palestine, for which there never is a shortage of credulous campus zealots.

Then there are the humanitarian causes young activists generally don’t embrace, at least not in a big way. Cuba’s political prisoners. Islamist violence against Christians in the Middle East. The vast and terrifying concentration camp that is North Korea. Where are the campus protests over any of that?

The case of Venezuela ought to be an especially worthy one for college students. It is urgent. It is close by. Its victims are fighting for democracy, for human rights, for the ability to feed their children.

Stephens says one reason for the relative silence may be that, up to a couple years ago, Venezuelan socialism was considered a bright spot by many on the left:

The Venezuelan regime was a cause of the left, cheered by people like Naomi Klein, Sean Penn and Danny Glover. Left-wing publications such as Glenn Greenwald’s “The Intercept” have gone out of their way to make excuses for the regime and treat its critics as Washington stooges. Jeremy Corbyn, who could yet be Britain’s next prime minister, memorialized the late dictator Hugo Chávez in 2013 for his “massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”

Even today, the criticism is amazingly muted. If Klein has seriously come to terms with Maduro’s tyranny or Venezuela’s catastrophe, she has not done it in The Nation, The Guardian, or anywhere indexed by LexisNexis or Factiva. Corbyn’s response to Maduro’s repression has been to voice his condemnation of “the violence that’s been done by any side, by all sides” — a piece of obfuscatory equivalence worthy of Donald Trump’s Charlottesville remark.

Just to emphasize that point about left-wing fans of Venezuela, here is the opening paragraph to one of my favorite articles of all time:

For more than a decade people opposed to the government of Venezuela have argued that its economy would implode. Like communists in the 1930s rooting for the final crisis of capitalism, they saw economic collapse just around the corner. How frustrating it has been for them to witness only two recessions: one directly caused by the opposition’s oil strike (December 2002-May 2003) and one brought on by the world recession (2009 and the first half of 2010). However, the government got control of the national oil company in 2003, and the whole decade’s economic performance turned out quite well, with average annual growth of real income per person of 2.7% and poverty reduced by over half, and large gains for the majority in employment, access to health care, pensions and education.

That was published in November 2013. Four years later, Venezuelan inflation is now estimated to be in the quadruple digits and it can take hours to collect enough cash from ATM’s to buy a cup of coffee. And of course, that’s really just scratching the surface of the nightmare daily life has become for many people there. This is a country where infants are going to hospitals for malnutrition because basic staples like milk and bread are extremely difficult to find.

We are witnessing a decade-long object lesson in the joys of socialism, but it never seems to reach any critical mass here in the U.S., almost as if it’s not relevant to what is happening here. I suspect Stephens is right about all of this. If Venezuela hadn’t been touted as a left-wing socialist paradise up until a few years ago, we’d probably be hearing a lot more about its decline now.