The Venezuela conundrum



Today, in the midst of Venezuela’s political crisis is this undeniably fact: Venezuela boasts the largest oil reserves of any country in the world. Yet it is facing the worst economic crisis in its history. So why? a good starting point is arguably the election of former Socialist president Hugo Chávez in 1998. With the poor people oriented Chavez in power and bucking the country’s elites the money coming in from oil in the late 1990s, allowed the charismatic Venezuelan president to establish a number of social programs called the “Misiones” (Missions). These programs sought to attack historical and endemic crippling poverty and inequality and included clinics and other organizations to provide free health care; free educational opportunities; and training for individuals to become teachers – for the very first time in Vemnezuela’s history. 

For example, Chávez brought in several thousand Cuban doctors to run these health clinics in the countryside. So in effect, oil money was being used  by the government to support those nations that were either sympathetic to his ideology or who he could trade with for things that Venezuela did not have. This of course, just stoked the ire of the ruling elites and their foreign enablers and supporters all looking for an opportunity and excuse to topple Chavez and put his “Chavezistas” in their place.

But then petroleum prices significantly decreased and Venezuela didn’t have the money to meet its spending commitments. In the 2000s, as petroleum prices were bouncing back and forth, the Chavez government was spending an exorbitant amount of money on things like the Misiones. Meanwhile, it had committed to selling Venezuela’s petroleum to allies at extremely reduced rates including the members of CARICOM. So in essence, not only was the revenue that should have theoretically been generated by the volume of petroleum that Venezuela was exporting not coming back in, but what was coming in was simply being spent away. In other words, it wasn’t being put back into the nation in terms of infrastructure.

All of this has laid the foundation for the present Venezuelan political and economic crisis. In fact, it was the culmination of these crises that set the stage for the eventual intervention of the west with the arrival of Juan Guido as the implacable challenger to the rule of Nicolas Maduro.  Today, the ongoing economic crisis may very well result in a combination of a number of possible outcomes: One, a possible United States military intervention, two, the emergence of another more Maduro-like strongman, three, perhaps the re-emergence of some kind of functional tepid democracy, or even a civil uprising, worse yet, a civil war or military coup. Nobody knows just how this will play out and how it will end.

The Venezuala conundrum will continue for a while yet as the situation continues to spiral out of control aggravated with the belligerent posture of the United States and its allies against the Maduro regime. So whether it’s going to be the military that finally says, “Enough” and topples Maduro, or whether some political action will spark a sharp and decisive change – perhaps demonstrations or an uprising that gets significantly large enough that the number of deaths occurring is enough to give the United States cover for its military/punitive actions or force the international community to act more forcefully – is still not yet clear, but one thing is certain – something is going to have to happen.

So until something happens that changes the present situation, there is a rapid exodus of Venezuelans out of the country. For example, during the last four years or so, it is estimated that at least two million Venezuelans have fled the country creating one of the largest brain drain and flight of human capital in the region’s history. The Venezuelan government’s in an eerie hilarious quixotic flux with competing legislative groups claiming legitimacy, power and authority. The National Assembly, which was set up by the 1999 constitution was taken over last year – in terms of gaining a majority – by the opposition.

As soon as that happened, President Nicolas Maduro created a new constituent assembly that was supposed to be writing a new constitution to solve all of the ills going on. But that assembly still hasn’t worked towards a new constitution, and now both assemblies are claiming to be the country’s legitimate legislative body with two competing presidents – one elected the other ordained by a rival assembly. Rarely has the region witnessed such an undiluted political fiasco. In Venezuela stagecraft has replaced statecraft.


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