Be A Voice: The Venezuela Crisis

By Campaign Agent Samuel Rhydderch

Over the past couple of weeks, I have read, listened and read some more. I have seen the clips of desperate Venezuelans, hungry and bloodied by a failed socialist experiment, which has turned a potentially wealthy economy into a farcical socialist catastrophe. I have also listened to the Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner on Andrew Marr and it does not make for comfortable viewing. This is my take on the current situation in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s inflation rate is currently running at 1,300,000%; it has the world’s worst economic growth, worst inflation and second-worst murder rate. Fancy a bag of penne pasta? That’s $300 on the black market please. Don’t want to pay $300 for pasta? The government has you covered- if you don’t mind waiting in line. Even if you do get your government subsidised pasta, you’ll probably be robbed at gunpoint anyway so there isn’t much point. Joking aside, Venezuela is a prime example of a country which has decided it doesn’t need economists to tell it how to run an economy.

The sad thing is, Venezuela has the natural resources to be one of the wealthiest economies globally. It has the highest proven oil reserves in the world- some 300 million barrels. To put this into perspective, that number is greater than Saudi Arabia’s. Hugo Chavez didn’t do a bad job in the beginning; when the global oil price was high, he ploughed the profits back into welfare programmes, and poverty decreased. But then the profits stopped, global oil prices collapsed, Chavez died and the country was left with crippling debts and deficits. Maduro took over and has simply tried to print more money in the hope that this would solve everything and anything. Chavez had left the state-owned oil company underinvested as a result of putting his own loyal people in charge, instead of the ones who knew how to run and properly invest in an oil company.

So, what has Maduro done wrong? Simply put, it was too much effort for him. Though we bash him for what he has done to Venezuela, he inherited a corrupted mess of a country and simply found it easier to live off corruption and government control. He tried to build upon Chavez’s socialist policies- for example, by forcing businesses to sell for lower prices and capping basic good. Unfortunately, businesses don’t find it profitable to make these items and therefore, don’t. So, instead of surrounding himself with academic and competent economists, Maduro simply widened his corruptive circle - why? Because it’s easy. It’s easy to misappropriate $300 billion into private pockets, especially when you can beat back protestors and critics with your devoted army. 

So, it’s time for change. Not much is known about Juan Guiadó, but we know he’s not Maduro, so that’s good enough for us. We know he’s the closest thing to capitalism, so that’s good enough for the Americans. We know he’s young and in touch with Venezuelan people, appearing in the streets of Caracas, and not on a balcony in some residential palace – so that’s good enough for the Venezuelans. Guaidó used articles 233 and 333 of the Venezuelan constitution to gain presidential legitimacy, citing that Maduro has usurped his powers and is therefore no longer fit to be president.

And, like an excitable puppy, the United States have also bounced onto the scene. It’s exactly the opening they have been waiting for- an opposition leader brave enough to confront an army-backed Maduro, risking his life in the process but also opening up new diplomatic channels. Through Guaidó, the interim president, the US now have the legitimacy to apply political and military pressure on Maduro and his government. For example, when Maduro ordered all US embassy staff out within 72 hours, the US stayed firm; they rejected Maduro’s authority to issue such orders, stating that “the United States will take action […] to hold accountable anybody who endangers the safety […] of our personnel.” Make no mistake, this was a militarised warning aimed at Maduro and his army.

There is a reason why the US are getting so involved. Russia like the Venezuelans; they like them so much that they have got stakes and investments in Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gold companies, with Maduro recently unveiling a $6 billion oil and gold investment deal with Russia. In addition, Russia like Venezuela because it gives them a a geo-political strategic foothold close to the American border. Think Cuba during the Cold War; the Russians want a new Cuba. The Americans are worried that Maduro will eventually allow the Russians to export their nuclear weaponry on Venezuelan soil if he stays in power. 

It is also laughable when a country such as Russia seeks to denounce external intervention as ‘violating the foundations and principles of international law’, especially when the country concerned has previously flouted the foundations and principles of international law under the United Nations charter by ‘intervening’ and invading a sovereign territory, in direct contradiction with Article 2 of the UN charter. But Russia has always been openly hypocritical; they are quick to cite international law when they dislike other’s actions- but when they do something bad? Suddenly they’re not that interested in international law.

The Labour party under Corbyn has stayed quiet over this affair. They are a socialist party, so it must be hard for Jeremy Corbyn to witness the disintegration of the very socialist ideals he believes in and wishes to implement himself in Britain. But as I sat at home watching Luis Escobar - a Venezuelan citizen - sobbing to a Guardian journalist as he recounts the time when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, with no medical care available in Venezuela, I couldn’t help but feel revulsion towards Labour’s weak position on the Maduro crisis. There is a way for the Labour party to denounce the failed socialist policies without it affecting their own credibility- it just takes a little bit of effort. However, Jeremy Corbyn is preventing this, instead sending on his international trade secretary to babble on about ‘discussions’ and ‘compromise’ and even the pope.

As the first US aid trucks arrive at the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, it is clear that Maduro’s removal from power is a matter of when, not if. Maduro has instructed the army to block all bridges to Venezuela in order to stop the foreign aid from entering. It is worth noting that the aid in itself is nowhere near enough to quell the hunger and strife- it is in fact a smart tactic in order to weaken Maduro’s hold on the military. It forces the military into a position whereby they are knowingly withholding food and medicine from their own people; these soldiers aren’t stupid, and not all are heartless. Maduro will lose, and he will lose because of two articulated lorries and seven small trucks sitting in a border city in Colombia.

Image: OEA-OAS @flickr