Sunday, February 3, 2019

Venezuela


Venezuela is a mess — and in a list of countries that could benefit from a coup d'état, Venezuela would be pretty close to the top.  That said, it should be their coup d'état, not ours.

The Venezuelan economy was not destroyed by socialism: it was destroyed by incompetence. Venezuela's oil fields were nationalized in 1976, but by the late 1980s they once again had fallen under the control of foreign multinational oil companies, with profits going primarily to big oil and Venezuelan plutocrats.  Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999, on a promise of returning oil profits to the people — and he did.  There were massive improvements in education, health care, and other social goods.  The main beneficiaries were the poor.

That's when the incompetence kicked in.  Valuing loyalty over expertise (sound familiar?), Chavez replaced virtually everybody who knew anything about running an oil company with a political supporter.  As time went on, maintenance was neglected, equipment wasn't replaced, corruption flourished, and production fell steadily.  Persistent US economic sanctions (the oil companies were really pissed!) didn't help at all.

The Bush Administration organized a coup attempt in 2002, which accomplished nothing but alienating most of Latin America — even though the Bush team at least tried to be sneaky about it.  When Chavez died and Nicolás Maduro took over, oil revenues continued to fall, and so did the fortunes of the Venezuelan people.  Maduro seems to have no goal other than to stay in power.

Juan Guidó recently claimed the presidency following an encouraging phone call from Mike Pence; and John Bolton cheerily applauded the impending privatization of Venezuelan oil.  Guidó comes from a far-right political party that represents only a fraction of Maduro's opposition, but a lot of Venezuelans seem willing to take what they can get, provided it's not Maduro.  Even many of the poor are deserting the Chavezistas in the face of economic catastrophe.  The oil barons are licking their lips.

If Guidó does come to power, at least Venezuelans will get an influx of sorely needed economic aid.  Hopefully, he can do it without the American invasion Our President says is "on the table."  Maduro is right when he says it could turn into another Vietnam: numerous past US interventions in Latin America have left us few real friends south of the border. Of course, Tr*mp might invade just to distract attention from the Mueller investigation.

We'll have to wait and see — probably not for long.