We need to take a firmer line with the world’s remaining communist dictatorships
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BY ANDREW LEWER MBE MP
It is a difficult time for all of us in the UK during the Coronavirus crisis, but spare a thought for the poor people of Venezuela. While the virus spreads, the ability of the Venezuelan government to help the affected is more or less non-existent. There are only 80 ICU beds in the entire country and more than half of the country’s doctors have emigrated. 70 per cent of hospitals receive water only once or twice a week and 20 per cent have no water at all. They also lack soap, ventilators, and personal protective equipment.
For some years the shocking condition of the healthcare system has meant that Venezuelans have been dying of diseases that are treatable in other countries such as malaria, tuberculosis and diphtheria. Coronavirus will add greatly to that number.
The regime is gradually losing control. Gang warfare has broken out in Petare, the biggest slum in Caracas with the regime unable to prevent pitched battles between criminals. Lack of food for prisoners caused a jail riot which spiralled out of control and killed some 46 people.
A lack of funds is finally undermining the Maduro regime’s brutal hold on the country. The dictatorship has only been able to sustain itself from diminishing sales of oil. Neglect of oil infrastructure has led to huge reductions in Venezuelan oil production. When Hugo Chavez came to power, production was over 3 million barrels per day. Due to incompetence, nationalisation, and corruption, that figure had more than halved by May 2018 to 1.4 million barrels per day.
Since then it has halved again and fallen below 700,000 bpd, down 20 per cent since the beginning of the year. The recent dramatic fall in the oil price means that the regime is getting much less for the oil that it does manage to sell. Moreover, a good quantity of the small amount has to be given away in order to pay back past loans.
China, one of the Maduro dictatorship’s staunchest supporters, has provided over $60 billion dollars of investment loans to the dictatorship since 2007 and is repaid in crude. Much of that $60 billion has been wasted on worthless state-run projects, and a good quantity has actually been stolen. A good example was the construction of the Yutong bus assembly plant, where a Venezuelan National Assembly enquiry found that the factory was largely inoperative and some $939 million dollars of project funds had been stolen by regime members. One can see aerial images of “Yutong bus cemeteries” where hundreds of non-functioning buses lie abandoned.
Another 50,000 to 170,000 barrels of oil per day is supplied free to another communist dictatorship that props up Maduro with military and intelligence assistance: Cuba. The bankrupt Cuban centrally planned economy, also bankrolled by China, cannot afford to buy oil or many other products on the international market and citizens now have to queue for days to obtain enough food to eat.
This coronavirus crisis has shown us that we need to take a firmer line with the world’s remaining communist dictatorships. The misery that has been caused by China’s deceit is immense, but its cynical approach has been to support other communist dictatorships that are also causing misery. Instead of continuing to turn a blind eye, we need a sustained effort to replace communism with democracy and freedom. China’s support for poverty-creating dictatorships like Venezuela and Cuba, together with the political and social subjugation of citizens within its own borders, only add to the pressure for that country to no longer enjoy the trading and investment relations with Britain that less oppressive states enjoy.
Andrew Lewer is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Venezuela. He has written this article in a personal capacity. Follow him on twitter: @ALewerMBE