Venezuela: Global Left Seduced By Another Latin American Strongman

From Spain's Podemos to Noam Chomsky, many left-wingers around the world are too blinded by ideology to see the Venezuelan crisis for what it really is.

Police forces in Caracas on Jan. 30
Police forces in Caracas on Jan. 30
Jairo Lugo-Ocando


BUENOS AIRES — In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Thomas Kuhn (1922-96) explained that scientific knowledge is obtained incrementally, within theoretical paradigms that permit the interpretation of the natural world. But these paradigms, he warned, could at times become straight jackets that prevent us from seeing new phenomena that don't fit our preconceptions.

A prime example is how a good portion of the Left worldwide continues to see Venezuela's Chavista regime, led by Nicolás Maduro, only within the paradigm of dichotomy. They see a picture of rich versus poor, whites against blacks, Yankee imperialism against Bolivarian revolution, capitalism versus socialism. In Argentina and Brazil, leftist elements view the Bolivarian system as a challenge to the IMF. In Chile, the Left blames Venezuela's economic collapse on the same conspiratorial forces that toppled President Salvador Allende in 1973.

The dichotomy extends to Spain's Podemos party, the Labour Party in Britain, and Noam Chomsky. None are taking a truly critical view of the situation. They want to see this as a spat between Donald Trump and Maduro, without stopping to consider the Venezuelans want or aspire to. Their support is thus for the regime, not for the people, as they keep thinking in terms of the Cold War and the fight for Venezuelan oil.

It is a mistaken paradigm that cannot explain events on the ground. Chavismo came to power in 1998 bearing the socialist standard, but it was not alone. It was joined by the military, which discovered that it could perpetuate itself in power by branding itself as left-wing. Thus Chavismo came explicitly to define itself — on the advice of Norberto Ceresole (1943-2003), an Argentine adviser to the late president Hugo Chávez — as both a civic and military movement.

Where was the Left while all this was unfolding?

Thanks to that and to high oil prices, it thwarted the attempted coup of 2002 and managed to crush the political opposition for a good while. But eventually it began to lose ground. In 2007, the late Hugo Chávez (president from 1999-2013) suffered his first big electoral defeat, in a referendum to scrap presidential term limits by revamping the constitution he himself had installed. Chávez ignored the results and changed the constitution anyway. Five years later, and battling cancer, he won the 2012 elections, but it was to be his last last hurrah.

At the behest of Cuba, he named Maduro as his successor. And after Chávez died in 2013, ties with popular sectors were cut. The Sucre district near Caracas, one of the continent's poorest neighborhoods, turned against the movement. Others followed suit, and in 2015 — against all expectations and despite the regime's shenanigans, the opposition won control of parliament. Maduro responded by nullifying parliament and creating his own Constituent Assembly through fraudulent elections. The rest is history.

Maduro has intensified his oppression as oil prices have fallen. More than 400 political opponents have been jailed, and more than 100 students shot in the streets. Dozens of media outlets have been shut down. Hospitals have been neglected. Thousands of tons of food handled by the state have been left to rot in ports, while frequent power and water cuts make life even more difficult for everyday citizens trying to support themselves on vanishing incomes.

As a result, some 3 million Venezuelans and counting have fled the country, many on foot. And where was the Left while all this was unfolding? Where were all those ideologues who have now come out fighting in Maduro's defense? Busy rehashing their old paradigms, no doubt.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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