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Michael Kelly: Why, over Maduro's Venezuela, as everything else, Sinn Fein finds itself on the wrong side of history

By Michael Kelly

Embattled Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro shows no sign of giving up his iron grip on power, despite mounting pressure from his own beleaguered people and increased rejection by the international community.

While the US, EU and Canada joined more than a dozen Latin American countries in backing the opposition leader, Comrade Maduro is not entirely without friends. Notably, Russia's Vladimir Putin has backed the strident socialist.

Closer to home, Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald has rushed to the defence of the troubled leader, insisting - despite all the evidence to the contrary - that the elections were free and fair.

So convinced was Sinn Fein by Mr Maduro that party representatives were among the few international guests at his farcical inauguration.

Mr Maduro has shown a remarkable instinct for survival. His regime has seemed on the verge of collapse for years and millions have fled the hardship his reckless economic polices have caused.

In fairness, the crisis started under his bully-boy predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who squandered the country's vast oil wealth on expensive foreign imports, leading to a drop in indigenous food production. Since then, the price of black gold has collapsed and going hungry has, sadly, become the daily reality for many Venezuelans.

Mr Maduro and his predecessor have so mismanaged the economy that GDP has dropped by nearly half since 2013. Inflation last year was thought by World Bank economists to be more than one million per cent.

But despite his bullish rhetoric, the socialist grandee must be feeling isolated; he's now accusing the United States of mounting a coup to oust him.

Now, if it were only President Trump that Mr Maduro had fallen foul of, one could be forgiven for dismissing the conflict as just another piece in the jingoistic jigsaw that is US foreign policy.

But the speed at which Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau - one of the most right-on leaders on the planet - backed regime-change was a sign that Mr Maduro's number was up.

While Sinn Fein has been laying low on Venezuela all week, it is still supporting Mr Maduro - at least on paper.

That's the problem with Sinn Fein: despite the attempt to rebrand in recent years, the party is still inextricably steeped in a world of fantasy revolutions and romantic movements.

In backing Mr Maduro, Sinn Fein is continuing a tradition that has seen the organisation ally with hated Libyan leader Colonel Gaddafi, former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and a host of other nasty regimes.

In the Sinn Fein ideological playbook, the only enemy is capitalism and the Great Satan of that economic model: the US.

That's why Venezuela's problems are all blamed on the US, despite the fact that no serious economist lays the blame anywhere but at the feet of the discredited Maduro.

Sinn Fein will always choose ideology over reality. That's why, rather than trying to engage on the issue of Brexit, the party is organising theatrical reconstructions of the Troubles-era border in Newry, instead of embarking on serious negotiations to ensure that there is a deal on the UK's exit from the EU.

Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's abdication of responsibility on issues as diverse as Venezuela and the Northern Ireland Assembly reveals why the party is not suitable for government.

For the sake of the long-suffering people of Venezuela, the international community must keep up the pressure on Mr Maduro.

Of course, he will go sooner rather than later - regimes like his always end in failure.

He will eventually realise that the stark choice before him is asylum in Cuba, or a prison cell at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Sinn Fein will then find themselves - not for the first time - on the wrong side of history.

Michael Kelly is editor of The Irish Catholic

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