JWG via DTN 15 January 2023 JT and Rae have been reading the tar baby saga and are trying hard…
The Guardian view on Venezuela: a country in pain
People are dying from shortages and state violence as Nicolás Maduro clings to power (25 April 2017)
Venezuela’s Road to Disaster Is Littered With Chinese Cash
(Foreign Policy) Politicized loans left the socialist South American country trapped under a mountain of Chinese debt — but now others want to sign up for Beijing’s “generosity.”
Venezuela’s ruinous state has more to do with China than one might think — specifically, with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plan for expanding China’s global influence through financial diplomacy. Venezuela’s collapse is about to serve as an object lesson on that plan’s high costs for China’s erstwhile partners — and ultimately for China itself.
China’s interests in gaining friends in the Western Hemisphere while securing access to oil overlapped with Venezuela’s interest in diversifying its customer base away from the United States. But that overlap of interests doesn’t mean China has ever offered any sort of discount on its loans. China lent at exorbitant rates to Venezuela. Now, China refuses to renegotiate those debts, even as the South American country’s economy and oil industry crater.
From 2007 to 2014, China lent Venezuela $63 billion — 53 percent of all its lending to Latin America during this time. There was an important catch to this largesse; to guarantee repayment, Beijing insisted on being repaid in oil. (June 2017)
Can Latin America handle Venezuela’s collapse without the U.S.?
(WaPost) As hundreds of thousands of desperate Venezuelans flee their country, in many cases on foot, their Latin American neighbors face a critical test: whether they can respond effectively to a crisis that threatens their own stability without the leadership of the United States.
So far, they are flunking — and they know it. “The answer is, we can’t,” says Colombia’s ambassador in Washington, Francisco Santos. “It’s sad to say, but we can’t.” … Santos has been attempting the near-impossible: to induce a Trump-obsessed Washington to focus on the most serious political and humanitarian crisis in the Americas in decades. Under the disastrous management of its authoritarian socialist regime, Venezuela’s economic output has plummeted by half in five years. A staggering 60 percent of the population say they have lost weight because of a lack of food. Some 2 million people out of a population of 31 million have already left the country — and more are pouring out, at a rate exceeding 15,000 per day.
‘They be pirates’
An old scourge is reappearing in the Caribbean
(WaPost) Centuries after Blackbeard’s cannons fell silent and the Jolly Roger came down from rum ports across the Caribbean, the region is confronting a new and less romanticized era of pirates.
Political and economic crises are exploding from Venezuela to Nicaragua to Haiti, sparking anarchy and criminality. As the rule of law breaks down, certain spots in the Caribbean, experts say, are becoming more dangerous than they’ve been in years.
Often, observers say, the acts of villainy appear to be happening with the complicity or direct involvement of corrupt officials — particularly in the waters off collapsing Venezuela.
“It’s criminal chaos, a free-for-all, along the Venezuelan coast,” said Jeremy McDermott, co-director of Insight Crime, a nonprofit organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
There have been reports of piracy over the past 18 months near Honduras, Nicaragua, Haiti and St. Lucia. But nowhere has the surge been more notable, analysts say, than off the coast of Venezuela.
Venezuela Is in Crisis but Its President Might Be Stronger for It
(NYT) … As the president’s stage shakes from an explosion on Saturday, hundreds of troops break ranks and flee in panic.
This portrait of vulnerability comes as Venezuela faces the biggest economic crisis in its modern history.
And yet, Mr. Maduro has remained in power. Many are now wondering whether he hasn’t only held on in spite of the disasters, but perhaps, by some measure, because of them.
“There’s an area between democracy and outright dictatorship in which economic crises can actually help the leader consolidate power,” said David Smilde, a sociology professor who studies Venezuela at Tulane University.
(The Economist) Over the past 18 months, Venezuela has been surprisingly stable. Nicolás Maduro, the president, has pulverised the opposition. But he is not invulnerable. That was highlighted in dramatic fashion on Saturday, when an apparent assassination attempt against him played out on live television. There is still much that is murky about the incident. But discontent with his rule seems to be growing. It is unlikely to be the last attempt to unseat Mr Maduro
Venezuelan president Maduro evaded drone assassination attempt: authorities
(AP via Global) Drones armed with explosives detonated near Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he gave a speech to hundreds of soldiers in Caracas on Saturday but the socialist leader was unharmed, according to the government.
Seven people were injured in the apparent attack which came as Maduro celebrated the National Guard’s 81st anniversary, said Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez. Maduro’s speech was abruptly cut short and soldiers could be seen breaking ranks and scattering.
Venezuela’s Inflation to Reach 1 Million Percent, IMF Forecasts
(Bloomberg) Venezuela’s inflation will skyrocket to 1 million percent by the end of the year as the government continues to print money to cover a growing budget hole, the International Monetary Fund predicted on Monday.
The crisis is comparable to that of Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in the late 2000s, said Alejandro Werner, head of the IMF’s Western Hemisphere department. He forecast the economy to shrink 18 percent in 2018 — the third consecutive year of double-digit contractions — as oil production falls significantly.
“The collapse in economic activity, hyperinflation, and increasing deterioration in the provision of public goods as well as shortages of food at subsidized prices have resulted in large migration flows, which will lead to intensifying spillover effects on neighboring countries,” Werner wrote in a blog post.
Canada, Latin American group of countries won’t recognize Venezuelan election
Voter turnout was under 50 per cent as mainstream opposition boycotted the election
Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro faced international condemnation on Monday after his re-election in a vote foes denounced as a farce that cemented autocracy in the crisis-stricken oil-producing nation.
Maduro, 55, hailed his win in Sunday’s vote as a victory against “imperialism,” but his main rival alleged irregularities and refused to recognize the result.
Venezuela’s Maduro declared election winner amid illegitimacy claims
In a blistering statement, the 14-nation “Lima Group” of countries in the Americas from Canada to Brazil, said Monday it did not recognize the legitimacy of the vote and would be downgrading diplomatic relations.
The group deplored Venezuela’s “grave humanitarian situation” behind a migrant exodus and promised to help co-ordinate with international financial bodies to crack down on corruption and block loans to the government.
Venezuela’s mainstream opposition boycotted the election, given that two of its most popular leaders were barred from running; authorities had banned the coalition and its various parties from using their names, and the election board is run by Maduro loyalists. Turnout was under 50 per cent.
(The Economist) President Nicolás Maduro does not deserve to win this weekend’s election—he may end up having to steal it. The economy has suffered the biggest contraction in the history of Latin America. Prices are doubling nearly every month. At least a million people have left the country in the past four years. Henri Falcón, a former ally of Hugo Chávez, is beating him in the polls
Venezuela launches the ‘petro,’ its cryptocurrency
(WaPost) Crisis-ridden Venezuela is launching an oil-backed cryptocurrency Tuesday that it hopes will help circumvent U.S. financial sanctions and resurrect the country’s moribund economy.
The pre-sale of the “petro,” which will represent a barrel of crude from a specific division in the country’s Orinoco oil belt, started Tuesday morning. Investors were offered $60 “tokens” at discounted rates that they can exchange for petros during what is being dubbed an “initial coin offering,” or ICO, in March.
“Today is the day the petro is born. We are on the world’s financial vanguard. Our response to great problems is great solutions and good will,” President Nicolás Maduro said in a televised launch event held Tuesday night in his presidential palace with media and investors. In a room set up startup-style with texts moving on screens and party-like music in the background, he said the project raised $735 million on the first day.
Skeptics have expressed doubts that the currency will thrive, mainly because of lack of trust in a government whose debt is being renegotiated and whose policies have brought skyrocketing inflation. In addition, the country’s once-thriving oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. (PDVSA), is producing at its lowest levels in decades.
(Politico) Raúl Gorrín, criticized for the controversial purchase in 2013 of the then pro-opposition news channel Globovisión, has paid Ballard Partners – the firm of President Donald Trump’s former Florida lobbyist – $450,000 since June through the U.S. subsidiary of the Venezuelan TV network, ostensibly to help the company expand into U.S. markets. … According to three sources familiar with his lobbying efforts in Washington … the media mogul is trying to establish himself as a broker between Caracas and the Trump administration, peddling the idea that President Nicolás Maduro and other key government leaders might be willing to negotiate a transition in Venezuela in exchange for amnesty.” http://hrld.us/2pgP8DP
(Quartz) Nicolas Maduro announced a new virtual currency. The Venezuelan president was ridiculed after saying the (still non-existent) “petro” cyrptocurrency would help the beleaguered economy tackle its huge debt. (BBC) Venezuela unveils virtual currency amid economic crisis
US expands Venezuela blacklist for ‘undermining democracy’
(BBC) The US has imposed sanctions on 10 Venezuelan officials it accuses of undermining democracy, corruption and censoring the press.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US “would not stand by while the administration of President Nicolas Maduro destroyed democratic order”.
Mr Maduro’s chief of staff and two ministers are on the list.
It brings to 40 the total number of Venezuelans sanctioned by the US, including Mr Maduro.
In Venezuela, Cooking With Firewood as Currency Collapses
(NYT) An all-powerful assembly of loyalists of President Nicolás Maduro rules the country with few limits on its authority, vowing to pursue political opponents as traitors while it rewrites the Constitution in the government’s favor.
But as the government tries to stifle the opposition and regain a firm grip on the nation, the country’s economic collapse, nearing its fourth year, continues to gain steam, leaving the president, his loyalists and the country in an increasingly precarious position.
Petróleos de Venezuela, the state oil company that is the government’s main source of income, reported in August that its revenue fell by more than a third last year amid production declines — part of a long collapse that chokes the country’s supply of dollars needed for imports of food and other goods.
The falling production mirrors trends in nearly every product that the nation depends on, from potatoes and corn to automotive manufacturing, with fewer than 1,100 cars made in the country through July this year.
What can Canada do for Venezuela?
Canada’s former ambassador in Venezuela, Ben Rowswell, on democracy undone, prolonged protests and widespread weight loss
(Maclean’s) Q: What should countries like Canada do to support Venezuelans who want their democracy back?
A: Speaking out is important because Venezuelan citizens themselves have less and less ability to do so. Canada is at the forefront of the countries that are expressing publicly their disagreement with violations of popular sovereignty. The second thing the international community can do is to try and shape incentives for people to come to the negotiating table, on both sides, both the government and the opposition.
Something that Canada has been doing has been to support international experts who can generate advice, drawn from other countries—whether it’s the Colombian peace process, or the transition from dictatorship to democracy in Tunisia, or how to run a transition, or how to run a peace and reconciliation process—and feed those ideas into the debate. It’s so people at the negotiating table in Venezuela have a wider set of options to consider, which might seem less of a winner-take-all kind of negotiation.
Regional top diplomats reject Venezuela assembly
(WaPost) Foreign ministers from 17 Western Hemisphere nations are condemning Venezuela’s new constitutional assembly, saying their governments will refuse to recognize the all-powerful body.
The statement came Tuesday evening after the Venezuelan assembly declared itself superior to all other branches of government.
The top diplomats met in Peru’s capital to discuss Venezuela’s political upheaval. They expressed support for renewed negotiations between the government and opposition, though previous talks have failed.
The ministers represented Mexico, Canada, Argentina and other regional nations. But while many Latin American nations have denouncing embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s recent moves to consolidate power, the region has found it tricky to formulate a collective response.
(Reuters) Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is trying to turn state oil company PDVSA into a bastion of support. Political appointees are gaining clout at the expense of veteran oil executives, while employees are under mounting pressure to attend government rallies and vote for the ruling Socialists. The increasing focus on politics over performance is contributing to a rapid deterioration of Venezuela’s oil industry, home to the world’s largest crude reserves, and to a brain drain at the once world-class company.
Venezuela opposition leaders taken from homes overnight
Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were both under house arrest, U.S. ‘very alarmed’
Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Tuesday said the two men have been jailed because they violated the terms of their house arrest.
The court said they were removed from their homes after “official intelligence sources” determined there was an “escape plan” involving both men.
The court added that Lopez isn’t permitted to engage in any sort of political activism and Ledezma is prohibited from speaking to media outlets.
Ricardo Hausmann: Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse
(Project Syndicate) In a hastily organized plebiscite on July 16, held under the auspices of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s call for a National Constituent Assembly, more than 720,000 Venezuelans voted abroad. In the 2013 presidential election, only 62,311 did. Four days before the referendum, 2,117 aspirants took Chile’s medical licensing exam, of which almost 800 were Venezuelans. And on July 22, when the border with Colombia was reopened, 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the narrow bridge between the two countries to buy food and medicines.
Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why.
Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet these numbers grossly understate the magnitude of the collapse, as ongoing work with Miguel Angel Santos, Ricardo Villasmil, Douglas Barrios, Frank Muci, and Jose Ramón Morales at Harvard’s Center for International Development is revealing.
Clearly, a 40% decline in per capita GDP is a very rare event. But several factors make the situation in Venezuela even bleaker.
Venezuela is now the world’s most indebted country. No country has a larger public external debt as a share of GDP or of exports, or faces higher debt service as a share of exports.
But, like Romania under Nicolae Ceauşescu in the 1980s, the government decided to cut imports while remaining current on foreign-debt service, repeatedly surprising the market, which was expecting a restructuring. As a consequence, imports of goods and services per capita fell by 75% in real (inflation-adjusted) terms between 2012 and 2016, with a further decline in 2017.
Such a collapse is comparable only to that of Mongolia (1988-1992) and Nigeria (1982-1986) and bigger than all other four-year import collapses worldwide since 1960. In fact, the Venezuelan numbers show no cushioning whatsoever: the decline in imports was almost equal to the decline in exports.
Venezuela heading for dictatorship after ‘sham’ election, warns US amid clashes
Up to 14 feared dead in clashes with security forces as many voters boycott poll that President Nicolás Maduro hails as a ‘vote for peace’
(The Guardian) throughout the day, turnout at polling stations was low for the election of 545 members of an assembly that would be tasked with rewriting the constitution and would have sweeping powers to reform or dissolve other state institutions, including the opposition controlled parliament. … The constituent assembly has been heavily criticised by foreign government including from the United States, the UK and neighbouring Colombia. On Sunday, Peru and Argentina said they would not recognise the outcome of the vote.
Maduro has said the assembly will help bring peace to the politically split country, but the opposition, and increasingly the international community, have warned that it will only serve for Maduro and the ruling socialist party to tighten their grip on power. The new assembly will be convened within 72 hours of the election and will function with virtually unlimited powers. Maduro and his closest allies have vowed to use the assembly to jail key opposition leaders, remove the country’s outspoken chief prosecutor from her post and strip opposition legislators of their constitutional immunity.
As Maduro takes Venezuela into uncharted waters, the opposition has few options
(Quartz) Venezuela does away with democracy. Through a referendum on Sunday, the government aims to establish a constituent assembly that will replace the constitution and be powerful enough to overrule all other bodies (paywall). Months of street protests have failed to halt president Nicolás Maduro’s drive toward dictatorship. The US has ordered embassy families out of the country.
(The Atlantic) As Venezuela’s government prepares for a critical vote this Sunday, much of Caracas was shut down in a 48-hour general strike, organized by the opposition. The Trump administration stepped into the mix on Wednesday, placing sanctions on 13 Venezuelan officials. The U.S. government warned that it is prepared to impose “strong and swift economic actions” if Mr. Maduro does not cancel the upcoming vote. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin described Mr. Maduro’s actions as undermining “democracy, freedom, and the role of law.” Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada is reviewing the U.S. decision to impose sanctions. She did not say if Canada will pursue similar measures.
Venezuela opposition holds unofficial plebiscite to defy Maduro
(Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition held an unofficial referendum on Sunday to increase pressure on President Nicolas Maduro as he seeks to create a legislative superbody that his adversaries call the consolidation of a dictatorship.
The symbolic poll, which also asked voters if they want early elections, is intended to further dent Maduro’s legitimacy amid a crippling economic crisis and months of anti-government protests that have led to around 100 deaths. (Graphic – Venezuela’s dark days: tmsnrt.rs/2pPJdRb )
The opposition has cast the vote, which took place at some 2,000 centers around the country, as an act of civil disobedience to be followed by “zero hour,” a possible reference to a national strike or other escalated actions against Maduro.
Venezuela’s Attorney General refuses court summons
Luisa Ortega faces imminent suspension after her move cranked up the tension in a standoff with President Maduro.
(Al Jazeera) A conflict between Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government and his increasingly defiant Attorney General Luisa Ortega came to a head on Tuesday as she refused to attend a Supreme Court hearing on whether to lift her immunity from being tried for unspecified irregularities.
Ortega argued the outcome of Tuesday’s hearing was a foregone conclusion decided by the government that violates her legal right to defence and due process.
Ortega, 59, is the most senior figure to defy Maduro as he fends off efforts to remove him from power in the volatile oil-exporting nation.
Timeline: Key moments in Venezuela’s crisis
A chronology of key events that have led to Venezuela’s political unrest.
Over the past 90 days, Venezuela has seen near-daily demonstrations – with anti- and pro-government protesters taking to the streets.
The political roots of the protests go back to 2016, when the Supreme Tribunal of Justice suspended the election of four legislators for alleged voting irregularities.
The opposition swore in three of the legislators. The entire opposition-led National Assembly was in contempt and the supreme court ruled that any decisions it made would not stand.
US slaps sanctions on Venezuela Supreme Court judges
Sanctions imposed on chief judge Maikel Moreno and seven others for usurping powers of opposition-led parliament.
The new sanctions package was aimed at stepping up pressure on supporters of President Nicolas Maduro amid growing international concern over a crackdown on mass street protests.
Venezuela Needs a New Leader, Not New Constitution, Almagro Says
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro has gone too far to bring the country back from the brink, said the secretary-general of the Organization of American States. The crisis-ridden nation needs elections and a peaceful transition of power — not the new constitution that Maduro has promised, he said.
“Venezuela is drowning in an economic, financial, social and humanitarian crisis of gigantic proportions,” Luis Almagro said in an interview at the OAS headquarters in Washington on Friday. “There is a dictatorship in Venezuela, and Venezuela needs elections. The only institutional exit for the country is a general election.”
Trump adviser meets with Venezuelan legislative chief amid crisis
(The Hill) President Trump’s national security adviser H.R. McMaster met with the president of Venezuela’s National Assembly [Julio Borges] at the White House on Saturday as the embattled South American country faces mounting social and economic turmoil.
“They discussed the ongoing crisis in Venezuela and the need for the government to adhere to the Venezuelan Constitution, release political prisoners, respect the National Assembly, and hold free and democratic elections,” [according to a readout provided by the White House].
Kenneth Rogoff: Why Did Trump Accept Venezuela’s Money?
(Project Syndicate) There is a certain irony in recent news that Venezuela donated a half-million dollars to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration through Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA), the state-owned oil company. Venezuela, of course, is a serial defaulter, having done so more times than almost any other country over the last two centuries.
There was a time when a contribution such as the one Venezuela made to Trump was a mere pittance in a much larger aid budget. Under its previous president, the charismatic Hugo Chávez, Venezuela spread its oil money far and wide, mostly to support other populist anti-American governments in the region. Chávez even funded heating fuel for some low-income households in the US, a program made famous by former US representative Joe Kennedy II’s 2006 television ads.
… the symbolism of a rich country taking money from a poor neighbor with millions of suffering people is hardly attractive. And it is particularly bizarre that even as US policy toward Mexico has greatly increased the chances of an anti-American Chávez-type character becoming president there, officials are providing positive publicity to a government that is a caricature of disastrous governance.
Venezuela’s worst economic crisis: What went wrong?
Country sitting on world’s biggest oil reserves is now region’s poorest performer in terms of GDP growth per capita.
(Al Jazeera) Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic crisis in its history, with an inflation rate of over 400 percent and a volatile exchange rate.
Heavily in debt and with inflation soaring, its people continue to take to the streets in protest.
President Nicolas Maduro announced the highest increase in the minimum wage ordered by him – 65 percent of the monthly income – which will be effective from May 1, and recently announced the creation of a new popular assembly with the ability to re-write the constitution.
Angry Venezuela said it would pull out of OAS. After members of the Organization of American States agreed to meet and discuss the country’s plight, Venezuela accused it of meddling and vowed to start the withdrawal process. Around 30 people have been killed in the last month of protests against president Nicolás Maduro’s government.
Armed Civilian Bands in Venezuela Prop Up Unpopular President
As rising foreign debt and falling world oil prices have depleted the Venezuelan government’s coffers, it has increasingly turned to colectivos as enforcers. From labor disputes with unions to student demonstrations on university campuses, colectivos are appearing almost anywhere the government sees citizens getting out of line, Venezuelans say.
(NYT) Colectivos control vast territory across Venezuela, financed in some cases by extortion, black-market food and parts of the drug trade as the government turns a blind eye in exchange for loyalty.
Now they appear to be playing a key role in repressing dissent.
The colectivos originated as pro-government community organizations that have long been a part of the landscape of leftist Venezuelan politics. Civilians with police training, colectivo members are armed by the government, say experts who have studied them.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Caracas and other cities demanding elections in Venezuela. Galvanized by a ruinous economy that has left basic foods and medicines scarce — as well as a botched attempt by leftists to dissolve the country’s congress last month — they present the largest threat to the country’s rulers since a coup that briefly ousted Mr. Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, in 2002.
Mr. Maduro has responded by sending National Guardsmen armed with water cannons and rubber bullets to disperse the crowds. But alongside the security forces, experts and witnesses say, are the enforcers from the colectivos, who engage in fiercer and often deadly intimidation.
Venezuelan Court Revises Ruling That Nullified Legislature
(NYT) Venezuela’s Supreme Court on Saturday reversed parts of a decision to strip the national legislature of its powers, an abrupt shift that came amid mounting domestic and international criticism that the country was edging toward dictatorship.
“The decisions of the court have not divested the Parliament of its powers,” Maikel Moreno, the court’s chief judge, said in an address on Saturday afternoon. He said the Supreme Court should not be in conflict with other branches of government “because it is only an arbiter.”
The state television network VTV on Saturday published summaries of the court’s most recent rulings in which the judges said they had “suppressed” parts of an earlier decision to nullify the legislature and allow the court to write laws itself. Judge Moreno said the court had also reversed a decision to strip lawmakers of their immunity from prosecution.
How Does Populism Turn Authoritarian? Venezuela Is a Case in Point
When Hugo Chávez took power in Venezuela nearly 20 years ago, the leftist populism he championed was supposed to save democracy. Instead, it has led to democracy’s implosion in the country, marked this past week by an attack on the independence of its Legislature.
Venezuela’s fate stands as a warning: Populism is a path that, at its outset, can look and feel democratic. But, followed to its logical conclusion, it can lead to democratic backsliding or even outright authoritarianism.
Populism does not always end in authoritarianism. Venezuela’s collapse has been aided by other factors, including plummeting oil prices, and democratic institutions can check populism’s darker tendencies.
‘Populism Will Always Stand In Tension With Democracy’
Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist, wrote in a 2015 column for The Guardian that “populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism.”
In other words, Mr. Chávez, like other populist leaders, told his supporters that their problems were caused by unresponsive, undemocratic elites and institutions. A strong leader, he argued, was necessary to break through those shadowy forces and impose the will of the people. That message was popular, as were initial steps.
“However, this comes at a price,” Mr. Mudde wrote. This “majoritarian extremism” reframes democracy not as a negotiated process meant to include and serve everyone, but rather as a zero-sum battle between popular will and whoever dares to oppose it — including judges, journalists, opposition leaders or even government technocrats labeled, in some countries, as a “deep state.”
This is why Kurt Weyland, a University of Texas political scientist, wrote, in a 2013 academic article, “Populism will always stand in tension with democracy.”
Populist leaders like Mr. Chávez, by deriving their authority from a promise to champion popular will, “see any institutions outside their control as obstacles to be bypassed or overcome,” Professor Weyland wrote.
Chavismo Full Circle
By David Smilde, professor of sociology at Tulane University and a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America
(NYT Op-Ed) Venezuela is not South Sudan, Haiti or Aleppo. But it is going through an acute economic crisis that is entirely unnecessary. This crisis is not caused by an imaginary economic war, or even the dramatic drop in oil prices — it already existed while oil was above $100 a barrel. It is caused by a set of obviously dysfunctional economic policies held in place by a government unwilling to change course.
Since March, the opposition has been pushing for a recall referendum against President Maduro through a Kafkaesque series of requirements. In September the government-controlled Electoral Council finally announced Oct. 26 to 28 as the three-day period in which the opposition could collect the 3.9 million signatures needed to call the referendum. The catch was that instead of using the 14,000 voting centers it has at its disposal, the Electoral Council would open just 1,356, seven hours a day, closing at noon for a one-hour lunch break.
But apparently even this limited access was too threatening. On Oct. 20, the Electoral Council indefinitely postponed the signature collection, on the most dubious of grounds. The government appeared to fear the optics of hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans being turned away from the voting centers, and the mass protests that could have generated.
Hence Chavismo has come full circle. From a movement that showed how non-elite actors could use the instruments of electoral democracy to upend an entrenched elite, Chavismo has itself become an entrenched elite preventing those same instruments from upending it.
(The Atlantic) Venezuela’s Turmoil: Over the weekend, Nicolas Maduro, the authoritarian president of Venezuela, met with opposition leaders for the first time in two years. The meeting, arranged by the Vatican, was prompted by violent protests following a court’s decision to block a referendum recalling the deeply unpopular president. So far, neither side looks willing to budge, but as tensions mount and the country’s economic crisis worsens, Maduro’s time may be running out.
Venezuela’s anti-government protests turned violent. Hundreds of thousands gathered for rallies across the recession-battered country, chanting, “This government is going to fall.” Dozens were arrested or injured, and a police officer was reportedly shot dead. Opposition leaders called for a national strike on Friday.
Protesters will vent their frustration over the country’s crippling economic crisis and president Nicolás Maduro, after he blocked a referendum on removing him from office. Venezuela’s parliament has voted to open a trial against Maduro for violating the constitution.
Venezuelan Democracy in Limbo
(NYT) Venezuela is at a breaking point. Canceling the referendum, which the majority wanted, closes the escape valve that has so far contained the discontent of over 80 percent of Venezuelans in the face of the economic and social collapse brought about by Mr. Maduro’s government. And there is no doubt that adding greater pressure to the boiling cauldron that Venezuelan society has become could cause it to explode.
Venezuelans warn of ‘dictatorship’ after officials block bid to recall Maduro
Socialist government has been accused of ‘absolute authoritarianism’ after suspending a recall referendum against the deeply unpopular president
Venezuela’s government has been accused of “absolute authoritarianism” after officials closed off the last legal avenue for an increasingly restless opposition, raising concerns of fresh unrest against the deeply unpopular president, Nicolás Maduro.
Venezuela on the brink: a journey through a country in crisis
A ruling on Thursday by election officials closely aligned with the socialist government put the brakes on an attempt to demand a recall referendum against Maduro just days before the opposition was to begin collecting the signatures of 20% of registered voters to force a vote.
Venezuelans Are Marching To Demand President Nicolás Maduro Leaves Power
Human rights activist Lilian Tintori says the people have had enough
Hundreds of thousands of disenchanted Venezuelans are marching in the capital, Caracas, Thursday, as part of a campaign by the opposition to push the national electoral council to speedily hold a referendum so that citizens can decide if they want President Nicolás Maduro to stay in power.
The mass rally comes at a time when Venezuelans are desperate for change in their country — which is currently experiencing its worst economic depression in more than 200 years, soaring crime rates and a shortage of basic goods.
How Venezuela’s Repressive Government Controls the Nation Through Hunger
(HuffPost) You would think that food lines would prompt riots. And some rioting is occurring. But we are not seeing anything like a Venezuelan Spring in which protests envelop the country and lead to governmental change. Why? Because food lines have paradoxically given the government new mechanisms for keeping protests at bay.
None of the Chávez-era policies that led to the food crisis have changed. If anything, Chávez’s successor, Nicolás Maduro, has reinforced the model he inherited. The only change has been the introduction of a rationing system. The government launched consumption quotas, giving people permission to buy certain quantities of certain products on certain days of the week, but no more. Maduro has thus Sovietized Venezuela. And predictably, rationing has exacerbated the food lines. Today, Venezuelans spend an average of 8 hours a week shopping and standing in line.
Nicolás Maduro dismissal threat grows as enough Venezuelans sign petitions
Opposition collects enough voter signatures to take recall campaign into next phase, authorities announce, as economic crisis dogs socialist president
The timing is crucial because if Maduro were to lose a referendum in 2016 – as polls indicate he would – it would trigger a new presidential vote, giving the opposition a chance to end 17 years of socialism.
But should he lose a referendum in 2017, Maduro, 53, would be replaced by his vice-president, maintaining the Socialist party in power until the country’s next presidential election, scheduled for the end of 2018.
Venezuela’s brutal options. The country is in economic meltdown and racked by shortages and food riots. But if a reformist president took over, what would it take to halt the collapse? Ana Campoy asked experts and came back with some grim answers: Bad as things are now, they would likely get worse before they got better.
These are the brutal emergency measures it would take to pull Venezuela back from total collapse right now
(Quartz) Venezuela, the world’s most oil-rich nation, is currently also the world’s biggest economic basket case.
Coca-Cola has stopped Coke production because there is no sugar. International airlines—including Aeromexico last month (paywall)—are halting flights to and from Caracas because currency controls make it nearly impossible to ship profits back home. Venezuelans are looting supermarkets to feed themselves.
By late last year 73% of the population (pdf, Spanish) lived in poverty, up from less than half a year earlier, according to a survey by several Venezuelan universities. Meanwhile, inflation is set to close the year at more than 700%, and GDP to tumble by 8%, according to the IMF.
In the neat realm of economic theory, the solution is clear, say economists within and outside of Venezuela. Bring the market back into the economy. Get rid of price and exchange-rate controls, as well as subsidies. Get international help. …
Brutal steps #1 and #2: Abolish price controls and Free the bolívar
Like price controls, currency controls have to be removed, economists say. Again, the degree of pain would depend on how the government goes about it. Lifting the controls from one day to the next would make the bolívar plummet, and the prices of imported goods, on which Venezuelans now depend, would shoot up.
Brutal step #3: Abolish subsidies
To increase government revenue, experts say, Venezuela must start unwinding the policies that have made it an economic weakling. That means ratcheting back subsidies. Today, the government spends more on subsidizing electricity and gasoline than on healthcare and education, says Brett House, chief economist at Alignvest Investment Management.
‘We’re living worse than in a war’: Venezuela’s deepening economic crisis
Critics have slammed president for embracing socialist blueprint instead of free-market policies
(CBC) The outlook for Venezuela appears to be dimming every day, and it’s not just because of the country’s daily four-hour mandatory blackouts.
The oil-exporting South American country is caught in a perfect storm of droughts, food and power shortages, and devastating inflation and recession caused by plummeting crude prices.
- Venezuela at risk of unravelling in economic, energy turmoil
- ‘Things could explode’: Why pressure is mounting as Venezuela’s economy melts down
President Nicolas Maduro, who took over following the death of longtime leader Hugo Chavez in 2013, faces mounting criticism and opposition as he tries, sometimes rather unconventionally, to find a solution.
‘Things could explode’: Why pressure is mounting as Venezuela’s economy melts down
Speculation centres on when President Nicolas Maduro will be removed from power
(CBC) Popular uprising? Recall referendum? Coup d’état?
Venezuela’s economic meltdown has become so dire that few political analysts believe President Nicolas Maduro will manage to finish his term, which ends in 2019.
Polls show that 70 per cent of Venezuelans now want to see Maduro go. But it’s unclear whether this would happen through peaceful, democratic means or through a more violent scenario.
Food shortages take toll on Venezuelans’ diet
Nutritionists point to long-term health risks of low-quality food as basic staples are hard to find or being sold at exorbitant prices
(The Guardian) Critics of the socialist government of Nicolás Maduro say food production collapsed in the oil-reliant country due to a mix of the expropriation of farmland and agro-industrial enterprises and strict price controls that made importing food cheaper than producing it locally. But a byzantine currency control system and plummeting oil prices have slashed imports of raw materials and food products.
Empresas Polar, the country’s largest food processor, warned last month it was halting beer production due to a lack of barley, and Coca-Cola said its low sugar stocks may force it to stop production of soft drinks.
Government supporters say its all part of a destabilisation plan backed by a rightwing opposition and foreign interests that want to see Maduro ousted from power.
Venezuela is shaping up to be the next crisis in the Americas. The opposition is calling for a presidential recall and President Nicolas Maduro says they have run out of time. It sounds more as though he has. Opposition leader Henrique Capriles has urged the army to choose whether it is “with the constitution or with (President Nicolas) Maduro”, after the president announced a 60-day emergency, giving soldiers and police wider powers to deal with the country’s spiralling economic crisis.
6 things you need to know about Venezuela’s political and economic crisis
(WaPost) Venezuela is a powder keg. Once a rich country held together by strong leadership and heavy social spending, it is now in economic disaster and could slide into widespread social disorder, triggering instability throughout Latin America. Drastic shortages of food, medicine, electricity and other necessities are causing small riots. Organized crime and extrajudicial police killings have given Venezuela a frighteningly high rate of murder and violence, with narco-traffickers allegedly in cahoots with corrupt allies in the government and security forces. Runaway inflation means that from March 2015 to 2016 a basket of basic goods for a family of five became 524 percent more expensive. According to a local NGO, Venezuela faced 170 lootings or attempted lootings from January to April 2016.
The highly unpopular socialist government of Nicolas Maduro announced electricity rationing and drastic cutbacks to the state work schedule, in part because of a drought and in part because world oil prices have collapsed, cutting government revenues dramatically. Meanwhile, the National Assembly, which is controlled by Maduro’s opposition, declared the country’s health sector a national emergency.
Venezuela Is Falling Apart
Scenes from daily life in the failing state
ByMoisés Naím and Francisco Toro
(The Atlantic) Developing countries, like teenagers, are prone to accidents. One pretty much expects them to suffer an economic crash, a political crisis, or both, with some regularity. The news coming from Venezuela—including shortages as well as, most recently, riots over blackouts; the imposition of a two-day workweek for government employees, supposedly aimed at saving electricity; and an accelerating drive to recall the president—is dire, but also easy to dismiss as representing just one more of these recurrent episodes.
That would be a mistake. What our country is going through is monstrously unique: It’s nothing less than the collapse of a large, wealthy, seemingly modern, seemingly democratic nation just a few hours’ flight from the United States.
In the last two years Venezuela has experienced the kind of implosion that hardly ever occurs in a middle-income country like it outside of war. Mortality rates are skyrocketing; one public service after another is collapsing; triple-digit inflation has left more than 70 percent of the population in poverty; an unmanageable crime wave keeps people locked indoors at night; shoppers have to stand in line for hours to buy food; babies die in large numbers for lack of simple, inexpensive medicines and equipment in hospitals, as do the elderly and those suffering from chronic illnesses.
Pope Francis writes letter to Venezuelan President Maduro
(Vatican Radio) Pope Francis has written a letter to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in reference to the situation in the country. The chief of the Vatican Press Office, Father Federico Lombardi sj confirmed the news without giving information about the letter’s contents, on Monday. …
Venezuelan Bishops press government to permit Church to help
In their 27 April statement, Venezuela’s bishops urged the government of President Maduro to allow the Church to bring in much-needed supplies such as food and medicine.
They warned that never before had the country suffered from such an “extreme lack of goods and basic food and health products” combined with “an upsurge in murderous and inhuman crime, the unreliable rationing of electricity and water, and deep corruption in all levels of the government and society.”
Toward a more effective state in Latin America
(Brookings) The debate about public policies for development has focused on defining the best interventions to promote growth and inclusion. At the same time, less emphasis has been put on analyzing the capacities of government agencies and institutions to design policies and put them into practice. The recently released 2015 Economy and Development Report (RED 2015) by the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) seeks to contribute to the study of the capacities of the state to improve the effectiveness of public interventions and promote development in Latin America. Successful interventions require a motivated and able bureaucracy as a crosscutting component throughout the policy production cycle; effective public procurement systems; citizen participation to strengthen accountability and improve the provision of public services; and the establishment of monitoring and evaluation schemes aimed at translating experience into knowledge and learning to increase the effectiveness of the entire process.
The Summit of Lies
As Latin American leaders gather in Panama, Venezuela is blaming all its problems on the United States
(The Atlantic) The gathering will be celebrating the restoration of relations between the United States and Cuba. Barack Obama and Raul Castro will shake hands, signaling the start of a new era for the two countries. At the same time, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and his allies will denounce the United States for a lot of things, but mostly for having recently imposed sanctions on Venezuela.
The handshake between Obama and Castro will represent a possible future for the hemisphere, while the opera buffa put on by the Venezuelan government will represent the past. This is a past in which leaders resorted to lies and manipulation to confuse and deceive their populations in order to remain in power. Maduro and his posse of regional allies (Argentina, Nicaragua, Ecuador, etc.) will remind us that they have not moved beyond that past. And Cuba, whose methods of manipulation Venezuela has long emulated, will star in both pictures: In one, making peace with its historical enemy; in the other, engaging with neighbors who feed on division and blame Washington for all their woes.
Venezuela gives Maduro decree powers for rest of 2015
(Al Jazeera) Venezuela’s National Assembly granted President Nicolás Maduro decree powers on Sunday for the rest of 2015 in a move he says is to defend the country from U.S. meddling but opponents decry as evidence of autocracy. In a noisy National Assembly session, ruling Socialist Party legislators, who have a majority, applauded the “Enabling Law” as a legitimate response to sanctions on seven officials and a U.S. declaration that Venezuela is a security threat. Opposition lawmakers said Maduro was cynically exploiting the diplomatic flare-up with Washington to amass powers, justify repression and distract Venezuelans from economic problems, including acute shortages.
On March 9, President Barack Obama issued an executive order declaring Venezuela a national security threat, sanctioning the seven individuals and expressing concern about the Venezuelan government’s treatment of political opponents. … Maduro, a 52-year-old former union activist and foreign minister who won election to replace Hugo Chávez in 2013, had seen his ratings tumble because of the economic crisis, but pollsters believe he may get a nationalist bounce during the spat with the U.S.
Violence erupts in Venezuela to mark 2014 unrest
Venezuelan security forces faced off with stone-wielding protesters on Thursday as supporters of President Nicolás Maduro also rallied on the anniversary of last year’s fatal unrest.
The flare-ups, in the volatile western city of San Cristóbal and the capital, Caracas, recalled four months of protests and violence in 2014 killing 43 people and underlined the continuing tension. See Venezuela’s opposition is united against Maduro but internally divided (5 March 2014)
Maduro accuses US of starting oil war to ‘destroy’ Russia and Venezuela
Venezuela relies on oil revenue for 96 percent of its hard currency reserves, so the plunging price of oil — which has dropped by half in the past six months to $48 a barrel — threatens to destabilize its economy. President Nicolas Maduro has a theory about what’s behind the sudden drop.
“Did you know there’s an oil war?” Maduro asked the leaders of Venezuela’s state-run businesses in a speech Monday in which he accused the United States of trying to flood the market with shale oil. “And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia. It’s a strategically planned war … also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse,” Maduro added.
The boom in U.S. shale oil production has pushed down oil prices worldwide, from $96 a barrel just six months ago, but Maduro’s comments say more about the pressure on his government domestically and Venezuela’s crucial relationship with Russia than about the global oil market. …
Even before oil started slipping, Venezuela was suffering an economic slowdown. Venezuelans have been suffering from shortages of basic goods including cooking oil, detergent and diapers amid an economic slowdown, the highest inflation in the Americas and restrictions on foreign currency for businesses.
Venezuela unrest death toll rises, students fight troops again
(Reuters) – Protesters battled soldiers in the streets of Caracas again on Wednesday as two more fatal shootings raised to 24 the death toll from a month of demonstrations against Venezuela’s socialist government.
Thousands of supporters and foes of President Nicolas Maduro took to the capital’s streets for rival rallies marking a month since the first bloodshed in the recent unrest around the South American OPEC nation.
Venezuela’s anti-government protesters settle in for the long haul
In San Cristóbal – where an estimated 40% of the town’s food is smuggled to Colombia for resale – activists are rebuilding barricades dismantled by the national guard
The protests began more than a month ago in this western city amid growing distrust of Maduro, the successor to Hugo Chávez who died a year ago this month after ruling for 14 years, setting Venezuela on a path to what he called “21st-century socialism”. The protests spread to Caracas and other cities, prompting a violent response from the government. At least 21 people have died and hundreds have been injured in the nationwide clashes.
‘A Perfect Storm’: The Failure of Venezuela’s New President
(Spiegel) He was hand-picked by Hugo Chávez, but Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has lost control of the country’s economy. Vast protests have been the result, but the government in Caracas has shown no signs of bending.
The movement began two weeks ago in San Cristóbal, in the state of Táchira near the border with Colombia. In just a few days, it spread across the entire country.
The students are protesting against inflation, shortages and corruption. Mostly, though, they are taking to the streets in opposition to the violence meted out by the country’s paramilitary shock troops.
The Game Changed in Venezuela Last Night – and the International Media Is Asleep At the Switch
(Caracas Chronicles) Throughout last night, panicked people told their stories of state-sponsored paramilitaries on motorcycles roaming middle class neighborhoods, shooting at people and storming into apartment buildings, shooting at anyone who seemed like he might be protesting. People continue to be arrested merely for protesting, and a long established local Human Rights NGO makes an urgent plea for an investigation into widespread reports of torture of detainees. There are now dozens of serious human right abuses: National Guardsmen shooting tear gas canisters directly into residential buildings. We have videos of soldiers shooting civilians on the street. And that’s just what came out in real time, over Twitter and YouTube, before any real investigation is carried out. Online media is next, a city of 645,000 inhabitants has been taken off the internet amid mounting repression, and this blog itself has been the object of a Facebook “block” campaign.
What we saw were not “street clashes”, what we saw is a state-hatched offensive to suppress and terrorize its opponents.
Venezuela protests rumble as demonstrators, troops face off
(Reuters) – Venezuelan security forces and demonstrators faced off in streets blocked by burning barricades in several provincial cities on Thursday as protests escalated against President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government.
At least five people have died since the violence broke out last week, the most serious unrest since Maduro was narrowly elected in April 2013. There have been scores of injuries and arrests.
The protesters, mostly students, want Maduro to resign, and blame his government for violent crime, high inflation, product shortages and alleged repression of opponents.