Thursday, August 3, 2017
The Mess in Venezuela
Back in the early Seventies, I met a Venezuelan general named Felix at a bar overlooking the Orinoco River. Hearing I was from New York, he wondered if I knew his friend Nelson. Nelson? Sí. Nelson Rockefeller.
Now, Venezuela is falling back into militaristic authoritarianism, but this time without the domination of the USofA. The American news media are presenting a simplistic, Manichean model of a socialistic "dictator" versus a "democratic opposition." The situation is not nearly so simple.
President Nicolás Maduro is heir to the "Bolivarian Revolution" of Hugo Chávez, a program that nationalized Venezuela's oil fields and used the profits to better the lives of Venezuela's poor. The program was understandably popular, and worked fairly well until oil prices collapsed. Maduro's efforts to maintain benefits to satisfy his base voters made the inevitable economic disruption much worse that it would have been otherwise, multiplying government debt and stoking triple-digit inflation. There was no money to pay for imports of food, medicine, and other essentials.
As beleaguered leaders are wont to do, Maduro makes sure that whatever goods are available go to his security forces. Those forces, along with substantial numbers of poor Venezuelans still fiercely loyal to the memory of Chávez, have kept Maduro in power — but the Presidente has another important advantage: there is no unified opposition.
The two former mayors recently moved from house arrest to prison agree with each other on almost nothing. Another opposition "leader" is Venezuela's Attorney General, a pro-democracy Bolivarian who is a member of Maduro's political party. Then there are the business interests calling for libertarian free markets, allies of the multinational oil companies that want their oil fields back (including remnants of the failed US backed coup attempt of 2002), a vast splintering of student groups, and more.
Typical of such situations, the largest group consists of people who really don't care who is in charge so long as their families have access to food, clothing, shelter, and medical care.
The US sanctions against Maduro and his close associates will accomplish nothing: it appears that the Bolivarians, unlike most political leaders, failed to enrich themselves personally while in power. An embargo on Venezuelan oil would make the lives of ordinary Venezuelans much worse (and elevate gasoline prices in the US.) At this time, there's nothing to do but "wait and see."