Two political flashpoints have erupted in the last few days. The first is in the Ukraine, where the President launched a violent assault on protesters, resulting in at least 26 people being killed and probably over a thousand injured. A truce might be coming into place. The second, to one’s surprise, is Venezuela, where Chavez’s heirs are arresting opposition leaders, beating protesters and silencing the press. Tonight there are reports of murder in the streets.
In the Ukraine, the protests are because the President has been cozying up to Russia and distancing himself from the EU, which most of the people vehemently oppose, having long memories of brutal Russian oppression. He has also, in the last few weeks, been desperately trying to silence the protests against his policies. In Venezuela, the issues are deeper:
Inflation has rocketed to more than 55 per cent, there are widespread blackouts and the staples of life are increasingly scarce. This, despite the fact that Venezuela is the most oil-rich country in the world. Crime is so rife in the big cities that many vulnerable Venezuelans are reluctant even to venture outside anymore. The murder rate in Caracas is 122 per 100,000 residents – higher even than Baghdad (as a Cuban friend of mine quipped last year, at least proper dictators like Fidel Castro keep the streets safe).
The response by the authorities to the protests has merely highlighted once again the government’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and one of the protest organisers, has had an arrest warrant issued against him and videos have emerged of students being pistol whipped and kicked by armed policeman. As if taking its cue straight from the Soviet playbook, the government has blamed a “fascist upsuge” for the violence and “saboteurs” for the disintegration of the economy.
(You really should read that last link, where James Bloodworth takes his fellows liberals to task for refusing to acknowledge that goatfuck that was and is Chavezism.)
The striking thing about these brutal crackdowns is that they are being implemented by democratically-elected leaders. It’s a stark reminder that democracy, by itself, is no guaranteed protection against tyranny and oppression. As I have said many times, the most important part of a democracy is what happens between the elections. We’re being reminded of that now in the Ukraine and Venezuela.
Oppressors like to paint themselves in various colors — fascism, communism, socialism, etc. Some of them even paint themselves as defenders of democracy. But in the end, no matter what hair-brained philosophy they cling to, they are the same color: blood red.