Why Venezuela Matters

October 15, 2018 

By John J. Metzler

UNITED NATIONS—It didn’t have to be this way.  An oil rich, economically prosperous middle class country, once a stable Latin American democracy, is disintegrating into a socialist dystopia plagued by hunger, corruption, hyper-inflation and churning political unrest. And while petroleum remains Venezuela’s major export, now tragically it’s the people too who are fleeing this twice California sized country.

Although there’s general awareness of Venezuela’s dire economic situation and dizzying rates of hyper-inflation, there’s less knowledge concerning the short term consequences; a collapse of the middle class and a growing hopelessness among the poor.  While richer Venezuelans have already left for the USA or Brazil, those fleeing now are streaming across the land borders with Colombia and Brazil at rates of 5,000 daily.

More than two million refugees have fled Venezuela’s chaos and uncertainty in the past few years.  A million have gone to neighboring Colombia and many to Brazil, Peru and Ecuador. This year alone, 500,000 have entered Ecuador.  According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), one of the largest population movements in Latin American history is now under way from Venezuela.

Just weeks ago, U.S. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley warned, “Venezuela was once a wealthy country. It has vast natural resources. Something is very wrong when citizens of an oil rich country have to leave in order to beg on Colombian streets to feed their children. That something is the corruption of the Maduro regime. This is a man-made crisis. Period.”

She added that the roots of the crisis go back to the days of deceased dictator Hugo Chavez and his Cuban-backed revolution.  “Hugo Chavez’s perverse vision of a socialist paradise in Venezuela has transformed into a criminal narco-state that is robbing the Venezuelan people blind.”

Transparency International which track global corruption trends ranks Venezuela 166 out of 176 comparators!

Venezuela’s leader Nicolas Maduro told the UN General Assembly, “The Oligarchies of the continent, and those who rule them from Washington, want political control of Venezuela.”

His speech followed a press conference a day earlier when his Foreign Minister launched a tirade against the Monroe Doctrine and the Trump Administration for trying to control Venezuela.

Though the Venezuelan economy contracted by 30 percent since 2013, nonetheless President Maduro won a second six-year term in a May sham election amid opposition boycotts of the polls.  Nonetheless with a divided opposition, Maduro’s United Socialist Party is able to control the political spoils and hold on to power through the pulsating left wing populism driving the Bolivarian Revolution.

But with the economy in tatters and inflation reaching a tsunami rate on one million percent, a feat few countries have achieved in recent years except for Zimbabwe,  the Caracas government has taken to renaming the currency,  the Sovereign Bolivar,  and chopping five zeros off each banknote!

In parallel, Maduro has created a “virtual currency,” the Petro, linked to the country’s vast and profitable petroleum reserves.  Though there’s some logic to the move, the fact remains that massive corruption and government incompetence have undermined any confidence in virtually any plans for this country of 32 million people.

Amid a dizzying set of food subsidies, a raising of the minimum wage by 34 times, and a giddy blend of neo-Marxist initiatives are only set to deepen the malaise.

Yet Maduro’s comrades in Cuba and China remain key allies and enforcers and providers for the regime. The Cubans provide the security police assistance while People’s China offers loans.

During a recent visit to Beijing President Maduro made a rare visit to the mausoleum of the dictator Chairman Mao Tse-tung.  Later in meetings with the Chinese leadership, Maduro secured yet another $5 billion loan.  In the past decade the People’s Republic of China has given Venezuela up to $70 billion which is leveraged against petroleum exports.

Viewing the deteriorating human rights situation in Venezuela, five Latin American countries, Argentina, Chile, Columbia, Paraguay, Peru as well as Canada asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to consider actions against top Caracas government officials for extensive human rights abuses. Significantly this is the first-time state parties to the ICC have referred another member to the court.

The Venezuelan crisis is creating both dangerous domestic discord and regional instability.

A refugee tsunami may destabilize neighboring countries in Latin America as well as spill over into the United States as the situation become ever more unpredictable.

Colombian President Ivan Duque Marquez told the Assembly, “The humanitarian crisis in the region was caused by a ‘dictatorship that annihilates liberties.’”  That’s tragically true.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China.

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