On March 28th and 29th, the Venezuela Supreme Court issued two decrees. They had the effect of (1) stripping members of the National Assembly of their immunity, (2) suspended some of their powers, (3) usurped some functions of the National Assembly and (4) broadened the powers of Maduro, Hugo Chavez’ socialist successor. The moves received widespread condemnation from the region and from the opposition in Venezuela. In response, after the Supreme Court met with Maduro, the rulings were reversed on April 1st. April’s fool…it was just a well-coordinated joke by the Supreme Court.
Either it was a cruel hoax, a really bad attempt to gain even more power, or a PR stunt that was coordinated between the Supreme Court and Maduro designed to make Maduro look good. Things are slipping out of control in a country that was once considered the crown jewel of Latin America. The intoxication of oil revenue mixed with the socialism of Chavez and Maduro have transformed that country into an economic and humanitarian basket case.
Since 2000 under Chavez, Venezuelan currency is worthless. Inflation rates run at an incredible 700%. Parents have put their children up for adoption because they lack the food to feed them. Hospitals lack basic medicines like antibiotics while emergency rooms operate without electricity. Morgues are overrun with unclaimed bodies and lack the means to dispose of them so they rot in hallways. Welcome to the ultimate socialist dystopia.
The government is heavily dependent on oil revenues which make up 28.9% of their GDP. The cost of producing a barrel of oil in Venezuela is estimated at $27.60 and with oil trading so low on the international market, it is today basically a break even scenario. As a member of OPEC, they also agreed to decrease production which only worsens the situation. In 2016, they had to sell off most of their gold to meet $9.6 billion in foreign debt due and those reserves have not been replenished. This year they owe $8.1 billion and with federal reserves of only $10 billion and no assets, they are likely to default.
Food and medical supplies are imported into the country. There are reports that ships laden with these supplies are sitting in ports unable to be unloaded because no one has the means to pay for them. Political gridlock has paralyzed the country. The deadline for elections in 2017 have come and gone and any transfer of power would revert to Tareck El Assaimi, yet another Chavez protege.
There are four scenarios for change and none look particularly good. First, there are the opposition parties which appear competent in organizing street rallies and protests and little else. The National Electoral Council, which is dominated by Chavez/Maduro backers, prevented a referendum that would have triggered new presidential elections in 2016. The parties themselves lack unity in the choice of a replacement, policy and in other areas.
The second factor is the military. However, the military already runs or heavily influences the oil sector and food importation and distribution. Senior military officials reap the financial rewards. There are reports that the Maduro government turns a blind eye towards drug trafficking by the military. The opposition has been targeting junior military officers, but that tactic is rife with pitfalls. As the failed coup in Turkey proved, they better succeed because failure will result in increased repression and severe punishment.
Third, there are regional actors like the OAS, Unasur and Mercosur- the latter a free trade group in South America. Mercosur countries have suspended trade with Venezuela yet imports from these countries continue. Banishment from the OAS would only tarnish an already tarnished image and would have no effect on Maduro. The actions by Mercosur and Unasur are rhetoric not backed up by tangible action. Outside pressure from regional groups and countries have had no effect on events inside Venezuela.
The best option is the fourth- public unrest and mobilization. There were massive protests in 2016 throughout the country that forced the government to beef up security and police presence in an effort to control the rampant crime in the country. Venezuela is now known as the homicide capital of the Western Hemisphere. It makes sense since the public is the one entity that feels the negative effects of socialism on a daily basis in their lives.
Of course, one would be negligent not to point out the support the Maduro regime receives from many Leftists outside the country. Salon wrote that the Chavez/Maduro government transformed the country so much that any American president can only dream of achieving so much. When Chavez died in 2013, Jimmy Carter sang his praises joining such people as Sean Penn and Oliver Stone. Meanwhile, there are reports that women are sneaking across the border into Colombia to sell their hair to purchase food and medicine.
A ticking time bomb has been created in the Western hemisphere. CNN reported that the Venezuelan embassy in Iraq had issued passports to several known terrorists. The Venezuelan government has known links to Hezbollah and supports their actions. While the US talks of “extreme vetting” of people from Middle Eastern countries, the real worry may be Venezuela. In fact, there are more asylum requests to enter the United States from Venezuela than there are from any war torn country like Syria or Iraq. And any power vacuum in Venezuela will be taken advantage of by FARC rebels which the US and Colombia have successfully neutralized to a large degree elsewhere.
As if the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc and Cuba were not prime examples of the abject failure of socialism, Maduro and the government in Caracas persist in proceeding down that dark road. In the meantime, socialist policies have been discarded throughout Latin America leading to increased economic output in countries like Panama, Argentina, Chile and Peru. They all have something in common: a rejection of socialism and the installation of governments committed to a free market, political freedom and the rule of law.
If any presidential palace is worthy of a few Tomahawk missiles, it is that of Maduro and company. And the Venezuelan people would likely applaud the action.