We know that Francis is capable of plain speaking when he needs to be
The situation in Venezuela is now critical, though it has attracted little interest from the British media. Just recently the Pope wrote to the President, Nicolas Maduro, highlighting the country’s problems, and asking him to do something about it.
Mr Maduro is the successor to the mercurial President Chávez, who died three years ago, and who made such a huge play of his ‘Bolivarian revolution’ and anti-Americanism, which won him considerable admiration in various quarters.
The trouble is that the Bolivarian revolution has led to runaway inflation, terrible shortages of basic goods, including medicines, and economic collapse, in a country that has huge natural reserves of oil.
Not for the first time in Latin America, populism has led to poverty, and the government, for all its rhetoric, has failed to deliver decent administration. Venezuela joins a long list of failing states.
Naturally enough this will be an opportunity for all those who opposed Chávez to wag a finger and tell us all that they had warned us this would happen. People in Venezuela itself will probably not be doing this, being far too occupied with the daily struggle to survive.
My own reaction is perhaps more nuanced, I hope, than simple schadenfreude, which would not be very Christian. It is this. It is time, and not just in Venezuela, to put ideology and wishful thinking aside, and for governments to concentrate on the pragmatic task of putting bread on the table.
Much of Mr Chávez’s programme, if it can be dignified as such, consisted not of rational worked-out and thought-through policies, but wishful thinking and ideological posturing. Not was Chávez alone in this.
Numerous governments in Latin America, Africa and Asia prefer to fantasise about the crimes of neo-imperialism than own up to the fact that their woes are largely self-inflicted. Indeed, because Mr Maduro seems to have no answers, apart from blaimng “Yankee imperialism”, to the current economic meltdown, his people are desperate to get rid of him, even though the constitutional cards seem stacked in his favour.
The Venezuelan situation casts light on the situation in other countries. In the United Sates, the Republican nominee is now certain to be a political fantasist, whose major policies – such a building a wall along the Mexican border and banning the entry of Muslims into the country – are not simply offensive to many, but impracticable.
In Britain, the leader of the Opposition is a man who has called Hamas and Hezbollah his friends: but it is a fantasy that these two groups are noble freedom fighters, opposed to imperialism and other ills.
Funnily enough, Mr Corbyn was a great admirer of the late Mr Chávez. According to Mr Corbyn, as well as improving the lives of the very poorest in Venezuela, Mr Chávez: “Articulated the pain of the cultural oppression by the Spanish conquistadors and the landowners and multinational corporations, and this enduring change in the cultural politics of the whole continent will survive.”
That was written three years ago, which is not such a long time.
I wonder what Mr Corbyn thinks of the Chávez legacy now? Isn’t it time for all politicians, of both the left and right, to stop posturing about cultural oppression, and deal with what really matters, namely that so many people in so many different countries are suffering from corruption, inefficiency and misrule?
We are not privy to the contents of the Pope’s letter to Mr Maduro, but we do know from other sources that he can be pretty blunt when he wants to be.
Given too that the Pope has vast experience of Argentina, another country wrecked by misrule, we can only hope that his letter to the Venezuelan president is the epistolary equivalent to banging heads together.
It is time for plain speaking. It’s needed.