Venezuela, Latin America, USA, Socialism

Venezuela is on the cusp of an economic collapse as President Nicolas Maduro seems to be adamant on destroying the fragile democratic institutions or whatever little remains of them. It is quite a long way from the place that was once the most prosperous country in Latin America. It was barely 24 hours after a rigged election victory gave the government the authority to frame a new constitution that security forces detained two leading opposition leaders. This set the ball rolling towards dictatorship as many critics of the government had feared.

Tragically, this is a self-inflicted wound. Venezuela has become an economic basket-case as its economy has shrunk by 35% in half a decade. And this is not the end of it. Inflation is touching 1000 per cent, corruption is rampant, and crime is on the rise- all of which has pushed the population to the point of desperation. This is partly due to the declining oil prices and more owing to the financial maladministration by the so-called “Bolivarian” government. The ensuing crisis is a disaster for its 31 million population. Since April, street fights have claimed over a 100 lives.

The recent crisis has, however, revealed that if governments undermine the national institutions, democracy loses its appeal. Turkey has already witnessed it in recent years and Venezuela seems to be next in line to learn that there are no guarantees attached with democracy.

The recent crisis has, however, revealed that if governments undermine the national institutions, democracy loses its appeal. Turkey has already witnessed it in recent years and Venezuela seems to be next in line to learn that there are no guarantees attached with democracy.

Venezuela is a place where romance and reality meet. There are those on the left, Hugo Chavez’s “Bolivarian socialist revolutionists” that have emerged as the symbol of an ideal world. Their ordered government is characterized by a bottom-up system, governance led by the common men in an inclusive democracy who are inspired and led by a charismatic leader. Meanwhile, those on the dogmatic right see the reality as poor governance, economic debility, and rising poverty leading to an inexorable fate of dictatorship.

The paradox is that both these viewpoints are neither completely wrong nor right. Chávez’s prior success rests on the message of hope that he propagated among the populace who were denied their due share in the country’s resources and a say in Venezuela’s governance. Th positives on one side, Chávez failed to restructure and institutionalise the unfair distribution of wealth. His ambitious pursuit of a quixotic economic strategy and his flirtation with authoritarian measures constitute a large chunk of his failures.

One might be able to understand Chávez’s missteps especially since they were in reaction to the rebellious attitude from Venezuela’s oil industry and the top officials in the country’s executive and judiciary. Their adamant refusal to accept Chávez as a legitimate leader despite his popular mandate was clearly anti-democratic – as was the US patronage that they employed in the failed attempt at a coup in 2002.

A bit of humility is advisable all around when the world contemplates Venezuela’s current scenario. As for Chávez’s choice for a successor, the decision to appoint Nicolás Maduro is not wise either. Not only does he lacks the appeal and the charisma of his mentor, but his appointment would do more harm than good. This is evident in Maduro’s reaction to months of public protest and street violence. His plan to constitute a gerrymandered constituent assembly in an attempt to boost his own powers at the expense of the elected parliament is no solution at all. What Maduro fails to realise in his ambitious grab for power is that majority of the Venezuelans are content with the existing constitution.

The actual root-cause of the unrest lies elsewhere. The country’s GDP has shrunk more than 20 per cent in the last three years while inflation continues to rise. The citizens are facing severe food and medicine shortages and are driven to the point of desperation.

The actual root-cause of the unrest lies elsewhere. The country’s GDP has shrunk more than 20 per cent in the last three years while inflation continues to rise. The citizens are facing severe food and medicine shortages and are driven to the point of desperation. And in their desperation lies the possibility of further violence which may spring the state into remedial action. This intent was evident in the words of Delcy Rodriguez, a former foreign minister and an ally of Maduro, when she said, “Don’t think we’re going to wait… Tomorrow we start to act. The violent fascists, those who wage economic war on the people, those who wage psychological war, justice is coming for you.” Meanwhile, the opposition MP Miguel Pizarro termed this as the sign of things to come from the constituent assembly. In his words, “This is what the constitutional assembly will bring: more repression.”

While the Maduro government is arresting its critics and acting irresponsibly by torturing his opponents among other things, the demand for an immediate end to this fiasco will by no means solve the structural problems in the country. Venezuela has been handed down in a weak and vulnerable condition by Hugo Chávez. The fall in international oil prices and myopic and hostile policies of the US administrations does not help matters either. Hence, when Donald Trump passes judgement despite his own undermining of constitutional governance, and the supposedly angelic Latin American neighbours threaten to expel them from the regional trade organisation Mercosur notwithstanding their own spotted record; Venezuela should hold up a mirror and reply: Who are you to dictate us? Indeed, why isolate and punish a state that chose an alternate method to overcome the chronic economic and social inequalities?

Venezuela should hold up a mirror and reply: Who are you to dictate us? Indeed, why isolate and punish a state that chose an alternate method to overcome the chronic economic and social inequalities?

The “pink tide” led by Chavez which took Latin America by a storm in the 1990s is a tide that has long since receded. Its place has now been occupied by the neoliberal and socially injurious economic models of Washington. The audacious challenge that Venezuela once posed to the US order has neither been forgotten nor forgiven. And when the time comes to ponder upon the current crisis and the blame-game begins, the leaders in the West and the political right must shoulder their share of responsibility.

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