Never mind the policies: Venezuela is a living tragedy

With the oil money drying up, democracy is nothing more than an inconvenience for Maduro

Nicolás Maduro at the funeral of Hugo Chávez. Image: Diariocritico de Venezuela

Venezuela is in crisis and has been for some time. People unable to feed themselves have taken to the streets or fled to neighbouring Columbia, the President has pushed for ever greater control through a new national executive established in a phony vote and recently has used the army in an attempt discourage opposition.

Sadly, such news from the region is common. States from Central to South America, Mexico to Argentina, struggle with corruption and crime. It is easy to become desensitised to such news as tragedy becomes the norm in South America. Yet we should not become passive, recent events in Venezuela will have global repercussions, indeed the dominos may have already begun to fall.

Nicolás Maduro became President of Venezuela on the 14th April 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez. The election was contentious and the opposition accused Maduro of fraud, yet the supreme court ruled that Maduro was the rightful president. All seemed to be working as it should. Until Maduro then stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters and used them to block the election of the opposition in 2015 despite their apparent victory.

From this alone it is apparent that Maduro is running a dictatorship. Democracy has been dead in Venezuela since that point and any who still argue for the current government are outwardly supporting dictatorship. Unless you are the former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, that is – at which point you can just blame it on the rich families that Chávez failed to kill. This seems to be a rather simplistic theory.

This is not to say that Maduro is without his supporters; the social welfare reforms of the Socialist government under Chávez led to praise internationally as well as domestically, and went a long way to developing the voter base that would maintain a Socialist Venezuela into the present day. It is hard from a Western standpoint to fault any of these reforms. Access to education, healthcare and support for the poor featured heavily in the Venezuelan social policy. Maybe that is why two major Australian trade unions have come out in support of the current Maduro dictatorship.

We can not be led into support for a tyrannical regime by our own desire for progress in South America as these Unions were. Progress must be based on sound social and economic policy with an
existing stable infrastructure, something that Venezuela unfortunately lacks. Why? Oil.

Oil is the major ingredient in the cake we call being an internationally relevant country. Either you have it or you can afford to buy it. I’m sure we all know the fallout when the price of a barrel falls or rises by the price of a pair of jeans. Venezuela has a lot of Oil, therefore it is
tempting to think of Venezuela as a rich country, something Chávez believed completely.

Some theorists such as Luis Ugalde have pinpointed this belief as the foundation for the current crisis. Rather than channel the funds from the oil industry into other developing industries in Venezuela, the government has refused to diversify. Instead spending some of the money on the social policies mentioned earlier, a good chunk on importing things like food and finally funneling the rest back into the booming oil trade. Who can blame them when oil makes up about 95% of their exports?

Then the price of oil dropped. Suddenly you’re not rich anymore, unlike Norway. So you do the only thing you can do: curb the expenditure and devalue the currency. Your hard core voter base doesn’t like that at all and takes to the streets, because they were sold an idea of prosperity that was simply not feasible. Now that the food is gone, democracy is nothing more than an inconvenience for Maduro.

It may be easy to chalk this up as a yet another sad tragedy in hopeful South America. I urge you to think otherwise. We must first look north to Trump’s America which has recently branded Maduro a dictator and imposed economic sanctions against the country. With the US in domestic turmoil it is hard to predict how the administration will react to an increasingly anti-American “Socialist” dictatorship sitting on a lot of oil less than a four hour flight from Miami. Recent history tells tell us that the US is not above direct intervention in similar circumstances.

Then we must look to the EU, divided as always on the issue. France has recently opposed sanctions and instead asks that the Venezuelan parties engage in dialogue. The UK itself has a muddled political history with Venezuela, Corbyn has voiced support for the Socialist government in the past, calling it “an inspiration”, and has yet to
speak out against the Maduro regime despite the recent power grabs by the Venezuelan President.

It seems every country has a stake in the future of Venezuela, whether it be pragmatic, ideological or economical. Venezuela may not be a rich country, but it is today one of the most important.

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