As Bernie Sanders, the UK’s Jeremy Corbyn, and Spain’s Pedro Sanchez have shown us, no matter how brutal, corrupt, or murderous a leftist dictatorship might be, socialist birds of a feather will always stick together.
Is Spain Maduro’s Ally?
Madrid’s equivocal stance vis-à-vis Caracas benefits the regime’s enduring grip on power. Has the “Axis of Evil” found an outpost in Europe?
The term “useful idiot” entered the American political jargon in the 1950s to describe Cold War leftists who bucked the foreign policy establishment in championing peace with the USSR. Maverick hawks of the McCarthyist sort ascribed them the covert motive of aiding the Soviet enemy—resorting instead to slanders such as “fifth column” or “Moscow’s puppet”—, but History would later largely exonerate them from charges of deliberate subversion. They nonetheless drove a palpable wedge in US public opinion at a delicate time for national security that no doubt played in Moscow’s hands. Whether “idiot” or not, “useful” to the Soviets they certainly were.
Rogue regimes still thrive to his day on the public’s mixed and relativist perceptions of them. For a recent example, check communist Cuba’s official print rag, Granma, praising Bernie Sanders for his kind words on Fidel Castro’s so-called “literacy programs”. Venezuela is another such rogue regime, and much like Bernie’s whataboutery vis-à-vis Cuba’s mass jailing of political dissidents, Spain’s friendly dealings of late with Nicolás Maduro’s narco-tyranny have diplomats and analysts second-guessing whether the two are working in concert or if one is simply playing to the other’s naïveté.
Closer by the day
The two countries are linked in History, culture, two-way migration and economic ties, and Spain has for a long time led in shaping the EU’s engagement with Latin America. Venezuela’s opposition naturally had large bets placed on Spain leading Europe’s pressure on Maduro to leave power and for elections to be held under “legitimate leader” Juan Guaidó. For a while since coming into office in June 2018, Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez of the left-of-center PSOE called for just such an outcome and urged EU partners to follow suit.
However, in the span of just a few months, Sánchez’s government has gone from the opposition’s natural ally in Europe to downgrading Guaidó to “leader of the opposition” and replacing its calls for free and fair elections under him with calls for “dialogue” with—and under—Maduro as the only path forward. In mid-February, Sánchez even shunned a meeting with the opposition leader in the early days of his support-rallying tour of European capitals, sending instead his Foreign Minister, the career diplomat Arancha González Laya, to trade vacuous niceties. This amounts to recognizing Maduro as the rightful leader of a country whose riches he keeps criminally plundering, and whose democracy he shows no signs of wanting to restore.
Former PM José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has also played his signature role as a “mediator” along similar lines, although with his effusive befriending of Maduro and his defense of the status quo, he resembles more like Caracas’ spokesperson in international fora. More recently, Raúl Morodo, who served as ambassador to Venezuela under Zapatero’s premiership, has been embroiled in a whopping scandal that puts him at the receiving end of €35 million from PDVSA’s coffers—Venezuela’s state-run oil giant—for lobbying and consulting services on Hugo Chávez’s behalf. Juan Carlos Márquez Cabrera, one of PDVSA’s former executives who commissioned Morodo’s services, hung himself in July last year at his Madrid apartment after giving sworn testimony of the scheme to Spain’s chief anti-corruption prosecutor.
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