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Venezuela: A Case Study in Self-Destruction

May 16, 2017
Plain English Version

Opposition supporters confronted riot security forces while rallying against President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, on Friday. Photo credit: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

Venezuela once was a rich country. Once it was a democratic country. Once it was a model country. Now Venezuela is on the brink of utter collapse. No one is in charge. The criminals run rampant. The currency is worthless.

Food is scarce. Three in four citizens report that they have unwanted weight loss. How much unwanted weight loss? The average yearly loss is 19 pounds.

The economy in Venezuela is worse than the economy in Syria. Inflation rate soars as high as 720 percent. This rate is about double that of the inflation rate in second-ranked South Sudan. Venezuelan money, its currency, has almost no value.

Venezuelan city streets are full of black markets. They are also full of violence. The last reported murder rate was in 2014. It was like the 2004 civilian casualty rate Iraq.

Venezuela is a country enriched with the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

Venezuelan national police officers at a march on May 1. Credit Federico Parra/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

No one knows for sure what a collapse might mean. Some believe the best hope may be for the armed forces to take over the country. They would remove President Nicolás Maduro.

Experts are pondering what is likely to happen.

Venezuela’s future may be easier to predict by looking at the United States. A two-party system such as the U.S. can make a country stable. It also can result in a division of “the spoils” between the two differing interests. But there can be problems.

Two parties can become the establishment. They can keep other ideas and people outside the system. The people of a country can begin to feel they are not part of the system.

Enter Lt. Col. Hugo Chávez. He led the 1992 failed coup of leftist military officers in Venezuela. When the coup failed, Chávez went to jail.

The Venezuelan government tried reforms. It let Chávez out of jail. Then the economy got worse. In 1998 Chávez ran for president. His message was a populist shout to return power to the people. It might sound familiar today. You recently might have heard, “Drain the swamp.”

Chávez won the presidency, but could he fulfill his promises? He tried to reduce corruption. But his efforts led to more power for himself.

He began to see himself as the true champion of the people. He became the “symbol” for his government.

The money that was flying through air led to rampant corruption. The people became discontent.

Over time, Chávez abandoned his populist message. The tension between haves and have-nots was growing. He turned to war on the establishment. He went after the press, the trade unions, and the courts. The country was now at war with itself. When the oil workers went on strike, he brought in untrained loyalists to replace them in the fields. The military tried a coup against Chávez. It failed.

Chávez had a lot of oil money to dole out. He began to use all the oil revenues to enrich himself and his friends. He subsidized the cost of food. He created Para-military street gangs called colectivos. They soon evolved into criminal gangs.

The worst then happened. Oil prices dropped. Not just a little but a lot. The money stopped flowing.

A line formed in front of a state-run grocery store in the port town of Puerto Cabello. On this day, there was only cooking oil and powdered milk. Credit Meridith Kohut for The New York Times

President Chavez died in 2013. When Nicolás Maduro took power the Venezuelan economy was in shambles. He had little support among elites and the public.

Maduro then did what desperate leaders do. He printed money. That made money worthless. Now he is just trying to maintain himself in power.

Many experts and observers believe there is still a democratic impulse in Venezuela. Venezuela has a court system and a legislature. The leader of Venezuela leader is unpopular.

The Washington Post motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” In Venezuela, it took place in broad daylight.

Source: The New York Times May 14, 2017

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