Brief thoughts on the crisis in Venezuela

  1. Maduro is a tyrant; any defence of him is inexcusable. Under Maduro’s presidency, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed, inflation has skyrocketed and goods shortages are increasingly common. Despite being blessed with abundant natural resources, systemic corruption, cronyism and an authoritarian political culture have left the country in ruins. No one can defend Maduro and have any moral or critical faculties.
  2. Chavez was partly responsible for the crisis we see today. While Chavez’s achievements in improving the country’s social welfare system and doubling average incomes were significant, they do not excuse his dictatorial system of leadership or his failure to wean Venezuela off oil- which remains wastefully cheap and heavily subsidised. Chavez removed checks on his power and made it very difficult to criticise the government. This has made holding the current administration to account more difficult.
  3. Conservatives have a legitimate point that the Venezuelan crisis is a crisis of government. It is the government that has mismanaged the nationalised industries, wasted the oil reserves, failed to invest in education and silenced its critics. You cannot blame the free market for failing when the government has created a climate so hostile to investment. When oil prices are so low, running such large budget deficits is a recipe for disaster.
  4. Western involvement is likely to play into Maduro’s hands. The West, and America in particular, is very unpopular in Venezuela and across Latin America. The West supported Carlos Andrés Pérez, whose attempts to liberalise the economy led to social unrest. If Guaidó, the current opposition leader in Venezuela, is seen to be a Western puppet, Maduro’s popularity will increase. We should condemn any abuse of human rights and violation of the democratic process, but I strongly suspect any Western intervention will backfire.
  5. The crisis is not a crisis of socialism per se, but a crisis of authoritarian statism. Conservatives in both America and Britain have used the Venezuelan crisis to warn against the perils of socialism. But in reality, there’s very little the West can learn from Venezuela. The crisis was caused by an authoritarian and corrupt leader running the state for his own benefit. Industries were nationalised and social welfare expanded- not for the good of the people, but to enhance state control. Venezuela is in crisis for the same reason the Soviet Union collapsed: any system which does not have the consent of the governed is inherently unsustainable. This is a very different situation to the one America and Britain finds themselves in, where leftists have proposed a more interventionist state while keeping the democratic process intact. If you hear someone say we can’t have universal healthcare or affordable higher education because of Venezuela, you know they’ve lost the argument.

One Comment

  1. I think some over-arching economic realities and clear patterns since 1945 have shaped Western petroleum politics and they must be included in an adequate analysis of the current situation in Venezuela. The framework, especially in the UK with the U.S. now catching up, has persisted from Iran in 1952 to Venezuela in 2019. A good start is the recent, thorough piece based on the newest documents– by Mark Curtis,

    Economic war via devastating sanctions against oil-rich countries are powerful explanatory tools in a full analysis of Western regime change policies–fostered by U.S./UK/France and targeting Iran, Iraq, Lybia, Syria and, now, Venezuela. A long list of obvious and subtle policies– internal political de-stabilization efforts by the CIA, Western powers locating refineries outside Venezuela itself, suggest the need to find alternative financial mechanisms, to de-dollarize the international economic trading system–these issues and many more specific economic policies designed to weaken Venezuela must be factored into a fuller, more truthful picture, I think. The U.S. and Uk’s policies re Venezuela’s gold, just a recent example.

    The petroleum-political-financial ascendancy in U.S./UK actions have to be part of the story, it seems to me. There are many undeniable economic explanations for the current situation. Political economist Michael Hudson, has powerful essays both in books and online. For example:

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