Amidst all the furore around Venezuela from all sides of the political spectrum, the reality of the situation is easily lost. Ask the average Right-winger and they’ll tell you that Venezuela is a totalitarian Communist state ruled by the evil dictator Maduro. Ask the Left and they’ll probably tell you that the Bolivarian Socialist nation of Venezuela is failing thanks to American imperialism and pressure from the West.
Neither perspective grasps the full truth.
Venezuela is a Socialist state. It is also a Democracy. President Maduro, and Chavez before him, were never particularly hardcore about their ‘class war’ or the economic and political transformation of their country. Venezuelan democratic elections are some of the most secure of any country, with many systems of oversight and heavy observation from both regional and international inspectors.
Maduro was elected with very low turnout, that much is certain, but he is still the legitimate president nonetheless. Elections were not rigged nor were people intimidated away from the polls, as happens in many a Socialist state.
When he assumed the powers of parliament, he did not send armed men to round up the parliamentarians – they were allowed to continue squawking their dissent, on national television no less. Large protests against the government are regular, yet the police do not shoot people dead in the streets or engage in brutal crackdowns like China’s Tiananmen square incident.
The history of Venezuela has seen almost innumerable coups and non-democratic power transfers. Curiously, most have been virtually bloodless. Traditionally, when a section of Venezuelan society was dissatisfied, they would march on the government and replace them with minimal conflict. It is simply not a country psychologically geared towards brutality and authoritarianism.
Yet modern Venezuela is somewhat authoritarian. Its model of Socialism is not the Communist dictatorship that the Americans would have you believe, but neither is it a paradise of freedom and honest governance. Quite simply, it is an easygoing Bolivarian Socialism that functions so long as oil prices are high and there are national assets to sell.
Alas, oil prices collapsed, and they have run out of assets – hence the crisis the country now faces.
It is undoubtedly true that Maduro is economically illiterate, remarkably so, even for a Socialist. Venezuela never adopted central planning or any other Socialist mechanisms that are proven to work (albeit inefficiently), because to do so would require an authoritarian crackdown and the use of force – which the Venezuelan government, for all its faults, is not willing to do. Central planning requires coercion, and Maduro isn’t very coercive.
So, what is the world to do?
This is a country that has been wracked for months by protests hundreds of thousands strong against a president with only a 17% approval rating, resulting in the deaths of civilians and the arrest and brutalisation by security forces of thousands of people.
Wait a minute – that’s France.
Perhaps you’re beginning to see an inkling of hypocrisy in the Western approach to Venezuela. France, an EU and NATO member state and nuclear power, has been thrown into chaos because of mass protests against a highly unpopular President who has presided over the wholesale decline of his nation – yet no one is calling for international intervention against Macron.
The United States, and the West in general, only care about the situation in Venezuela because they stand to benefit from the overthrow of the Maduro government.
Venezuela is a close friend of China and Russia. This has irritated the United States for years, since according to the Monroe Doctrine, South America is the backyard of the US, and they reserve the right to exert complete control there. The 20th century saw a litany of US backed coups against Left-leaning South and Central American governments – sometimes beneficially, sometimes through violence and dictatorship. America is an easy master, but a poor friend.
There is the argument that the United States wants Venezuelan oil, but this doesn’t quite add up either. Venezuela sits on massive oil reserves, yet 90% of it is heavy oil which is economically uncompetitive to extract and sell. Given the shale-oil boom in the US, it seems unlikely they would resort to toppling a government to control an oil supply that they don’t particularly need and will struggle to profit from.
An educated guess would be that US attempts to destabilise Venezuela are for two main reasons. Firstly, dislike of the fact that their superpower rivals have an ally in South America. And secondly, in order to boost the popularity of Trump’s government at home. A easy war where America can ‘declare victory and leave’ has consistently proved popular with the US electorate.
Alas, that will probably not be the case this time around. Trump appears to be panicking about his 2020 prospects thanks to his inability to accomplish promises he made on the campaign trail – such as the wall. The economy will probably run out of steam soon too. However, Trump was elected on a non-interventionist platform. His voters were sick and tired of expensive foreign wars. So trying to woo them with one is inadvisable at best.
Unfortunately Trump has surrounded himself with neoconservatives such as John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. First, they recognised opposition politician Juan Guaido as interim President of Venezuela (which makes no legal sense), and now they’ve wheeled out Elliot Abrams to head their interference in the country.
Maduro is so economically incompetent that a US-backed coup might actually improve life for Venezuelans. But that’s a big maybe, and it doesn’t answer the question of whether it is right to interfere in another nation’s internal politics.
Will yet another innocent country fall victim to US interventionism? For better or worse, I suspect we’re about to find out.