Commentary: Venezuela’s death spiral of recession, protest and repression

Commentary: Venezuela’s death spiral of recession, protest and repression

By Anthony L Hall

Despite having the world’s largest proven oil reserves, Venezuela has suffered for several years from high inflation, rampant crime and a shortage of basic goods.

The protests taking place across the country were expected to be the biggest in three years, putting extra pressure on President Maduro to negotiate with the opposition and find a way of easing the country’s economic crisis. …

Elections are not due until 2019, but the opposition says the country is on the verge of collapse.

(BBC, April 19, 2017)

The democratic protests dominating life in Venezuela today are all too reminiscent of those that dominated life in Egypt six years ago. This is why nobody should hope for a political awakening to spring from the former, given what sprang from the latter.

Specifically, far from harvesting the democratic freedoms hoped for, the protests in Egypt ended up harvesting an even more repressive dictatorship. I chronicled this fateful irony in many commentaries, including “Military Savior a Bigger Devil than Mubarak,” November 22, 2011, “Egypt’s Arab Spring Spawns Brutal Dictatorship,” March 25, 2014, and “Sisi Completes Egypt’s Vicious Circle by Releasing Mubarak,” March 24, 2017.

Egypt is now in a terminal winter of discontent. I fear the protests in Venezuela will end up harvesting the same — or worse.

[Twenty-two] protesters have died, President Maduro’s government is accused of using torture on protesters to obtain false confessions of ‘terrorism,’ and evidence of police abuse is circulating on social media. Despite the clampdown, the protests in Venezuela haven’t stopped since the end of March.

(Caribbean News Now, April 20, 2017)

Frankly, Maduro seems determined to make up in ruthlessness what he lacks in Chavismo — the charismatic cult of personality that enabled his mentor, Hugo Chávez, to balm his repression with a veneer of popularity.

Claiming he has “eroded democracy,” opposition forces are demanding Maduro step down. It speaks volumes in this regard that Venezuela has so abandoned democratic values, it has gone from championing Cuba’s readmission to the Organization of American States (OAS) to threatening to withdraw its own membership. The latter, no doubt, to preempt being kicked out for the same reasons the OAS kicked out Cuba in 1962.

The Organization of American States is the world’s oldest regional organization… [It] brings together the [35] nations of the Western Hemisphere to strengthen cooperation on democratic values, defend common interests and debate the major issues facing the region and the world.

(OSA.org)

Unfortunately, Maduro seems hell-bent on ruling Venezuela — even if that means killing protesters (emulating the infamous way Chinese leaders eventually squashed Tiananmen Square protesters) and nationalizing foreign companies (as he did with a GM plant last week).

In short, he will turn Venezuela into the Zimbabwe of South America before he releases his death grip on power.

Five years ago, Zimbabwe was the breadbasket of sub-Saharan Africa; today, it is a basket case of starving people. Five years ago, there were 4,000 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe; today, there are only 400 — mostly unproductive — farms left.

(“Zimbabweans Pray for Liberation from their Liberator — Robert Mugabe,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 29, 2005)

I should add, as a cautionary note, that Zimbabweans have been protesting for nearly 30 years for the democratic freedoms Venezuelans are protesting for today.

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Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant – headquartered in Washington DC – who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com

I also cannot resist noting that Maduro is so desperate to forge foreign alliances, he hailed the election of “comrade” Trump. He even contributed $500,000 from government funds to Trump’s inauguration coffers in a, well, Trumpian attempt to curry favor. This, while most Venezuelans are finding it difficult to buy food, water, and medicine.

Of course, millions are finding that investing in this Trump presidency is like investing in a pyramid scheme. Everyone from obscure Americans to famous Russians can ruefully attest to this. Seizing that GM plant last week suggests that even Maduro has come to this realization.

In any event, there’s clearly no way he can win a free and fair election in 2019 (or whenever he deems it advantageous to orchestrate one). He can only hope the Venezuelan army supports his dictatorship the way it supported Chavez’s.

But in “Venezuela Finally Awakens from Chavismo Nightmare,” December 9, 2015, I warned that Maduro would be a fool to bank on this.

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We’ve seen this oxymoronic state of affairs before. After all, Africa is littered with countries rich in natural resources but mired in poverty.

This excerpt — from “Chávez’s Chavismo: More Robbing Hoodlum than Robin Hood,” August 12, 2015 — gives an overview of the primrose path Venezuela took to arrive at this political and economic purgatory.

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My socialist affinities are such that I used to be a big fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. … However, it did not take long before I began denouncing him as just another tin-pot dictator betraying the very socialist causes he championed — as such commentaries as “Bolivia’s Woes Expose Chávez’s Socialist Counter-Revolution as Little more than One-Man Three Ring Circus,” September 7, 2006, attest. …

It was hardly surprising that poor Venezuelans were protesting against chronic privation within a year of his death in March 2013. …

Few Venezuelans appreciated that Chávez was a bigger crook than any drug lord who ever menaced South America. Yet he earned his rightful place in the rogue’s gallery of dead kleptomaniacs, which includes everyone from Claude ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier of Haiti to Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire/DR Congo and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya. Crime bosses like Al Capone and drug lords like Pablo Escobar had nothing on political dictators like these. …

His family and cronies have nothing to fear, so long as the man to whom he bequeathed the presidency, his crony in chief Nicolás Maduro, remains in office. But all bets are off — with respect to their ill-gotten fortunes, and even their freedom — the minute any opposition leader assumes power.

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Accordingly, I urge Maduro to negotiate blanket immunity (for himself and his family) in exchange for his immediate resignation.

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Alas, the messianic Chávez really brainwashed poor Venezuelans with his Robin-Hood rhetoric; so much so that, having worshipped him as a god, many are now abiding his handpicked successor as the “son of god.” And Maduro is exploiting this for all it’s worth, including enlisting and arming them to fight (unarmed) opposition forces — just as Chávez used to.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he will expand the number of civilians involved in armed militias, providing guns to as many as 400,000 loyalists. …

The Bolivarian militias, currently at approximately 100,000, were created by the late Hugo Chavez to assist the armed forces in the defense of his revolution from external and domestic attacks.

(Fox News, April 18, 2017)

In fact, Chávez’s legacy is the all too foreseeable failed state Venezuela is becoming.

Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice wrote a famously mocking homage to another fame-hungry crusader for the poor, Argentina’s messianic Eva Perón. I can think of no worthier homage to Chávez than paraphrasing it:

We cry for you Venezuela
The truth is he never loved you
Despite Chavismo
His revolution
He broke his promise
Please find your senses.

Related commentaries:
Egyptians march back to future…
Egypt Arab Spring…
Egypt vicious circle…
Venezuela…
Zimbabwe…

* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on Monday, April 24

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