Whether or not it was the real deal, socialism has imploded in Venezuela.
Venezuela used to be the socialist success story. Hugo Chávez, the left-wing country’s charismatic President, waxed lyrical about how Venezuelans were literate, educated and well-off. It seemed the perfect rebuttal to neoconservatives in North America who said that the socialist political creed was dysfunctional and unrealistic. Finally, claimed socialists (like Jeremy Corbyn), this was ‘real socialism’.
Well, whether or not it was the real deal, ‘real socialism’ has imploded in Venezuela under Chávez’s incompetent successor, President Nicolás Maduro. The latter’s tenure in charge has left a country that was once the richest in South America to become a starving, burning ruin on the brink of civil war. 122 protesters were killed across the country over the past few months, as Maduro has brutally put down resistance to his increasingly undemocratic regime, and opposition leaders have been arrested.
There are many lines along which Mr Maduro could be roundly censured. Nonetheless, the most pressing, and the most immediately obvious, is his utter failure to protect Venezuela from the oil price collapse that has taken place over his tenure. Hugo Chávez, as much as one does like to speak ill of the dead, must share in some of this blame; however, under Maduro, economic blunders have increased markedly. It has now reached a stage at which ordinary Venezuelans cannot eat, and are running out of basic provisions. Inflation is running at over 1,000%, and the US dollar is being traded illegally at over 900 times the governmentally mandated rate.
Mr Maduro’s claims that the CIA is at work are ridiculous; the Americans have no interest in destabilising South America, least of all under the isolationist Trump administration. The only person Venezuelans have to blame is their President.
The fact that the Maduro administration has lost control of its currency is not the worst aspect of the Hispanic nation’s meltdown. Guns, drugs, and prostitution is rife, making the formerly affluent nation a hotbed of crime and violence. This risks spilling over into other nations. Venezuelan refugees are pouring northwards to the USA and into large Colombian cities like Medellin in their thousands. Its other neighbours fear that they, too, could be the next target of major refugee flows if the Colombian and American governments grow tired of the strain. This cannot continue. But how do you solve a problem like Maduro?
He must be forced out, and his party, the PSUV, with him. Even a cursory glance at the Venezuelan economic model shows that the supposition of steady oil dollars was premature and naive. Venezuela should have diversified in order to make sure that the system of heavy state subsidies and government provision was sustainable in the long term. Instead, this top-down, bureaucratic setup has been sinking since the mid-2000s and, after a few wobbles, finally died this month. Maduro could have resigned, and allowed the opposition to clean up his mess in dignity.
However, like Lord Acton said, ‘power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. To force him out takes more than just a coordinated attempt to strangle Venezuela’s national income. The Economist pointed out this week, rightly, that an attempt to restrict the nation’s oil income will just hurt the very people an effort would intend to help. It is far wiser that the USA, the EU, UK and other major Western allies attempt to direct sanctions onto Maduro and his fellow-travellers. This week and last, 13 officials were targeted with asset freezes, including Maduro himself. Weakening the practicality and allure of power for the incumbent President is the best course of action for now. Otherwise, the suffering of the Venezuelan people will only be worsened.
Maduro’s attempts to cling onto power have gone so far as to call a sham poll to consolidate his power with the help of boot-lickers in his party. This is tragic. Venezuela, like many of its neighbours, has suffered under dictatorships before. The PSUV will have unfettered control over law-making in the country, and the courts will be on their side. The turnout in this week’s poll on a new constitutional assembly, with far greater powers, was a clear indication of support for the government. The opposition boycotted this vote; hence, only the PSUV and its coalitionary allies will have seats in this beefed-up body. Turnout was supposedly around 41% of the eligible population; however, observers and Reuters news teams said that Mr Maduro had fudged this figure by at least 4 million. Sanctions on Mr Maduro must be strengthened, and quickly.
It is now clear, if it was not already, that Nicolás Maduro has no respect for history or his fellow citizens. He is becoming an unlikely dictator in a country that deserves better leadership, and many Venezuelans have died because of his greed and caprice.
The revolutionary ideal of the anti-Spanish General Bolivar in the 1800s formed the current manifestation of Venezuela. It was based on freedom and justice, and liberation from dictators and monarchs. Yet, today, the same nation finds itself struggling for air, and held down by a single man’s self-interest. To call himself a Bolivarian revolutionary is to spit on the historical record, and we must label Maduro and his party for what they are: Bolivarian dictators.