By Joseph Klein
Venezuela is at the breaking point. Its failed socialist system is imploding. Venezuela’s economy is in a free fall, a classic example of how top-down centralized government control ends up making conditions worse for virtually everyone except the autocrats running the show. Venezuela’s embattled president, Nicolas Maduro, is facing a determined opposition that is conducting a general strike and a mass protest this week.
Tensions have been building for months, but the country is approaching a critical juncture as Maduro plans to go ahead with a sham “election” on Sunday to choose 545 members for a body known as the Constituent Assembly. This new body would be empowered to rewrite the country’s constitution, which the opposition sees as a way for Maduro to consolidate his autocratic powers even further. The sham “election” of the Constituent Assembly members is procedurally stacked in such a way that Maduro will almost certainly get a pliant assembly to do his bidding. This move has not only angered the opposition, which has called for a boycott of Sunday’s election, but it has split Maduro’s own ranks. On July 4, 2017, Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega, a so-called Chavista, strongly denounced Maduro’s plan for a re-write of the constitution.
The opposition controls the National Assembly, which is trying to choose judges for Venezuela’s Supreme Court who are not Maduro loyalists. The Supreme Court back in March had announced that it was taking over the powers of the National Assembly in a blatant bid to suppress the opposition politically. While the Supreme Court reversed its decision a few days later, the move increased distrust in Maduro’s government. Maduro exacerbated the distrust when his intelligence forces began arresting judges appointed by the opposition. He has threatened to arrest more.
“As a direct result of Maduro’s power grab,” The Diplomat has reported, “more than 100 people have been killed, 1,000 injured, and nearly 3,000 arrested in the recent wave of violence and protests.”
Beyond the political struggle, the Venezuelan people are struggling to put food on the table. Inflation may reach as high as an unsustainable 720 percent, destroying the average citizen’s purchasing power. Venezuela’s economic health relies on revenues from oil exports, which have been steadily shrinking. As a result, its currency reserves are shrinking as well. Venezuela’s GDP collapsed by 19 per cent in 2016. Once one of the richest countries in Latin America with its huge proven oil reserves, Venezuela’s socialist government has squandered it all in the service of a failed ideology and greed.
Lower oil revenues have meant cuts in social services. Venezuela is suffering an acute humanitarian crisis, including severe shortages of medication and food.
Rather than confront Venezuela’s political, economic and humanitarian crisis head on and work with the opposition collaboratively to resolve it, President Maduro is lashing out at scapegoats. He has alleged a conspiracy between the opposition and the United States to bring his regime down. “The US right wing thinks it can give orders in Venezuela, but the only one who gives orders in Venezuela is the people,” Maduro said on his weekly broadcast.
If the people of Venezuela are truly the ones giving orders, Maduro is obviously not listening. According to Datanalisis’s June 2017 poll, 69% of Venezuelans oppose the Constituent Assembly maneuver that he is shoving down the throats of the Venezuelan people. An even larger majority (including a majority of the so-called Chavistas) prefer that the current constitution be enforced. Maduro insists that a new constitution is needed in order to stave off “coup-plotters.” Maduro is the real coup-plotter. The opposition-controlled National Assembly leader Julio Borges called Maduro’s insistence on drawing up a new constitution “a scam to deceive the Venezuelan people with a mechanism that is nothing more than a tightening of the coup in Venezuela.”
On July 17th, President Donald Trump called Maduro “a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.” He promised that the United States will “not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.” On July 26th, President Trump followed through on his promise. His administration imposed new sanctions on current and former high level government officials, military officers and managers of Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).
The Trump administration’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned that more U.S. action will be forthcoming if Maduro does not change course. “The United States will keep all options on the table, including sanctioning anyone who joins the Constituent Assembly, and will look into additional measures to hold the Maduro regime accountable,” Ambassador Haley said. “We will also continue to have the backs of the Venezuelan people as they fight to save their once prosperous democracy – even in the face of violence, intimidation, and denial of services by their own government.”
Socialist ideology imposed by brute force is not only morally bankrupt. As proven time and time again, it is self-destructive. Venezuela is but the latest example as it descends into chaos and human misery.