Trying to make sense of Venezuela

Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

This post was inspired after a night of heavy drinking with some colleages from Latin America. Some additional research was done on Wikipedia and through Google searches, but this post is mainly me channeling the words of my fellow drinkers and adding a little bit of detail here and there. If you’ve come looking for rigour and citations, you’re in the wrong place.

Venezuela’s (extremely simplified) recent history

Venezuela’s situation has been particularly horrifying for the last years. A long series of coups and coup attempts have been part of the country’s history since 1948, and its last charismatic leader, Hugo Chávez, broke tradition and rose to power thanks to elections in 1998. Chávez had previously attempted a coup during 1992, but was unsuccesful and was smart enough to realise that if at first you dont succeed, try something different.

To keep things dangerously simple (this is a blog post, after all), Chávez was able to change Venezuela’s constitution and end term limits for elected officials through a series of referendums. He died in 2013 during his fourth term in office. After Chávez died, Nicolás Maduro was elected president, a position he still holds.

In late 2013 Maduro requested, and was enabled, to rule by decree, citing the need to fight an economic war as the country was facing shortages in food and other goods. Such rule by decree was limited to around a year, but other situations kept popping up so that Maduro’s rule by decree was reinstated or extended several times and continues to this day.

There is quite more to add to this extremely simplified summary of Venezuela’s recent history, like how Venezuela’s supreme court assumed legislative duties in 2017 after the opposition won a majority during parliamentary elections, and we haven’t even mentioned the fall in oil prices during 2014 bringing about a recession, or how Chávez himself triggered his own contry’s destruction through bad management. The sad reality is that instead of solving Venezuela’s problems while they were still small, they were allowed to grow and foster new problems of their own so that now only drastic solutions appear useful.

Venezuela before Venezuela

For decades, Latin America has been in a love-hate relationship with Cuba. Undersandably, Latin America has also been in a love-hate relationship with the US. On the one hand, anti-american rhetoric has been a useful tool for the most left-leaning political factions, as american backed governments tended to remain in power for a long time, whether through dictatorships, just corrupt means or the incompetence of their rivals. It is not uncommon to hear those most disadvantaged say they are doing their part in fighting against the “american empire” or to outright speak of their hatred for americans, even though they haven’t met one in their lifetimes. This is also where the myth of a slow, peaceful, and defiant life in Cuba takes hold: if the most powerful country in history hasn’t been able to defeat a puny island off of its coast, then the Cuban way of doing things must be right.

On the other hand, the reality is that most people in Latin America would like to live similarly to their US counterparts. Having to deal with less corruption, more and better paying jobs, less crime, and a more stable and better performing economy are just some of the wishes of most Latin Americans. The reality of living under the Cuban system, where health, employment and education are guaranteed but perhaps not as good, and where life choices are limited due to the systems of government and economics mean that very few people are willing to try it out because they see it for what it is: a system where the bare essentials are met at the price of almost everyone being equally poor.

Again, these comments are an extremely simplified view of things, this is a blog post, not a PhD thesis.

So what’s next?

It’s clear that countries surrounding Venezuela have no real way of dealing with such an exodus, while it took about 60 years to displace a million cubans, only 4 years were necessary for the same amount of venezuelans, and it’s obvious the situation won’t improve. US military intervention is clearly not on the table, as there’s no real point in doing so. This is not a gringos-want-poor-venezuelan’s-oil issue, it’s a what’s-the-point? issue. On a personal level, I think it’s worthwhile doing nothing for now as it’s not clear what the real options are and what benefits or problems they would cause. At the same time, it’s always nice to have a country in such a terrible place to point to and say “see, that’s how not to do it”.

If anything, the one thing that has to be done is to prevent other countries from following in Venezuela’s footsteps. How that is to be done, however, I’ll leave to another night of heavy drinking.

See you next week!