Monday 22 April 2019

Michael Kelly: 'Sinn Féin yet again on wrong side of history'

Country in crisis: A man walks past a mosaic of late president Hugo Chavez (left) and President Nicolás Maduro on a wall in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Getty Images
Country in crisis: A man walks past a mosaic of late president Hugo Chavez (left) and President Nicolás Maduro on a wall in Caracas, Venezuela. Photo: Getty Images
Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly

Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro shows no sign of giving up his iron grip on power, despite mounting pressure from his own beleaguered people and increased rejection by the international community.

While the US, EU and Canada joined more than a dozen Latin American countries in backing the opposition leader, Comrade Maduro is not entirely without friends.

Notably, Russia's Vladimir Putin has backed the strident socialist in his efforts to cling to power.

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Closer to home, Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald has rushed to the defence of the troubled leader, insisting - despite all the evidence to the contrary - that the elections were free and fair.

So convinced was Sinn Féin by Mr Maduro that party representatives were amongst the few international guests who attended his farcical inauguration.

But Mr Maduro wouldn't want to rely too much on his erstwhile friends in the Shinners. Ms McDonald has been remarkably quiet in recent days despite her earlier support for her fellow revolutionary traveller, even though the dogs on the street believe he rigged the election.

Perhaps her political advisers' calculation is that associating the party with pictures on the nightly news of starving people scavenging in the rubbish tip for scraps might not be the best image to portray for a party desperate to put a fresh spin on its policies for the electorate at home.

Back in Venezuela, Mr Maduro has shown a remarkable instinct for survival. His regime has seemed on the verge of collapse for years and millions have fled the hardship his reckless economic polices have caused.

In fairness, the crisis started under his bully-boy predecessor Hugo Chávez, who squandered the country's vast oil wealth on expensive foreign imports leading to a drop in indigenous food production.

Since then, the price of black gold has collapsed, and going hungry has, sadly, become the daily reality for many Venezuelans.

As of 2016, the average Venezuelan living in extreme poverty lost nearly 19 pounds due to lack of food.

By 2017, a basket of basic groceries cost four times the monthly minimum wage and more than 11pc of the children in the country suffered from malnutrition.

Last year, the United Nations revealed that more than 30pc of Venezuelans were only eating one meal per day.

Mr Maduro and his predecessor have so mismanaged the economy that GDP has dropped by nearly half since 2013. Inflation last year was thought by World Bank economists to be more than one million percent.

But despite his bullish rhetoric, the socialist grandee must be feeling isolated. He is accusing the US of mounting a coup to oust him - a classic tactic designed to draw sympathy from the anti-American lobby.

Now, if it were only President Donald Trump that Mr Maduro had fallen foul of, one could be forgiven for dismissing the conflict as just another piece in the jingoistic jigsaw that is US foreign policy under the reality TV star president.

But the speed at which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - one of the most 'right on' leaders on the planet at the moment - backed regime change was a sign that Mr Maduro's number was up.

While Sinn Féin has been laying low on Venezuela all week, it is still supporting Mr Maduro - at least on paper.

That's the problem with Sinn Féin - despite the attempt to rebrand in recent years, the party is still inextricably steeped in a world of fantasy revolutions and romantic movements, from the Middle East to Latin America.

In backing Mr Maduro, Sinn Féin is continuing a tradition that has seen the organisation ally with hated Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and a host of other nasty regimes that specialise in brutalising and repressing their own people. Anyone who is of the left and anti-Western finds a friend in the Republican movement.

In the Sinn Féin ideological playbook, the only enemy is capitalism and the Great Satan of that economic model is the US. That's why Venezuela's problems are all blamed on the US, despite the fact that no serious economist lays the blame anywhere but at the feet of the discredited movement Mr Maduro leads.

Sinn Féin will always choose ideology over reality. That's why rather than trying to engage on the issue of Brexit the party is organising theatrical reconstructions of the Troubles-era Border in Newry instead of embarking on serious negotiations to ensure that there is a deal on the UK's exit from the European Union.

The party's representatives have been happy to hide behind rhetorical statements about the unacceptability of a Border without lifting a finger to ensure that this doesn't happen.

The more perceptive of their voters in the North have understood this and such statements are now met with an eye-roll. But the Shinners will continue to get a free pass in the North for the lack of a credible opposition.

The civil partnership between Fianna Fáil and the SDLP offers no realistic challenge to the Sinn Féin virtual monopoly on the nationalist vote north of the Border. Micheál Martin and Colum Eastwood can spend the next year touting their new policy-sharing initiative, but the truth is that they'll do nothing other than drum up more apathy.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin's abdication of responsibility on issues as diverse as Venezuela, the Northern Assembly and Brexit reveals why the party is not suitable for government.

For the sake of the long-suffering people of Venezuela, the international community must keep pressure up on Mr Maduro. Of course, he will go sooner rather than later - regimes like his always end in failure. He will eventually realise that the stark choice before him is asylum in Cuba or a prison cell at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Sinn Féin will then find themselves, not for the first time, on the wrong side of history.

Irish voters should not forget this.

Irish Independent

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