How Do You Solve a Problem Like Venezuela?
If South America were a person, Venezuela would be its beating heart, albeit a severely malfunctioning one that seems to be further plunging to the depths of despair. People wait hours, if not days to refill gas and up to 80% of the population are food insecure. For a nation with the largest oil deposits in the world, Venezuela was once tipped to be a major success story, and for a while, it managed to give its citizens free healthcare, free education, and discounted foodstuffs. You would be forgiven for thinking this was the promised land in the making.
When you live in a country with 99% of its export dependence on oil, it's easy to fund large-scale social programs. That is exactly what Hugo Chavez did until his death in 2013. Following the arrival of the Maduro presidency, the plug has been pulled on much of these programs and the country has seen negative growth rates, consecutively for the past 7 years. Under a socialist government with a deep disdain for privatization, there is little light at the end of the tunnel.
Amidst desperation, everybody takes their slice of the cake, leaves with it, or fails to share it. A third route is to go and take your skills elsewhere. About 4.5 million Venezolanos live abroad, fleeing to countries such as Colombia; many travel as far as Argentina for a better life, in search of a stronger currency to support relatives stuck home — ironic considering Argentina’s financial history. With a complete fracturing of society, there is little to unify the nation.
Interim President, Juan Guido, supported by over 50 members of the international community could be the way out of this crisis. A way out in which a face-off with the Maduro government is inevitable. Maduro has tightened his grip on the military and a collection of countries George Bush might have named “the axis of evil” namely Iran, China, and Cuba continue to support a regime that does not lack in friendships.
The hurdle to recovery is enormous and international backing alone will not tip this crisis in Guido’s favor; it is ultimately in the hands of the Venezuelan people to dismantle the web that surrounds Maduro. Despite having a clear lack of support from the general population, money talks and various incentives to begin mixing military barracks with government have created a wedge in which repression and political persecution are rife.
Protest is far from effective and often serves as a source of propaganda on either side, skirmishes with security forces further disconnect the people from the Presidential palace which continuously uses U.S. sanctions as a pariah for their economic misgivings. Arguably, Maduro has gained an enormous amount of credibility from these sanctions so far, and considering the economic dependence on oil, many Venezuelans, who rely on that revenue still will shun U.S. intervention.
Ensuing the election of Joe Biden, sanctions do not seem likely to end anytime soon and with no end in sight, both sides must be willing to negotiate some form of peaceful transition. Gridlock will not hurt Guido’s interim government, nor will it affect the Maduro regime but if anything is for certain in this pandora's box it is that millions of Venezuelans are desperate for a return to normality where basic living standards are attainable.
We do not live in a world where the bad guys lose and the good guys win, despite what pop history may tell us, Venezuelan recovery is not going to be a Hollywood blockbuster. Instead, a concerted effort to negotiate without other international actors will be the best course of action. Fixing the price of oil to the value of a 30 million-strong populace is the wrong way to proceed; people unfortunately are not as durable as commodities. They do not react well to constant extremity. Chavez was convinced otherwise and Maduro was essential, left to pick up the pieces of such a disastrous policy, allowing corruption and economic mismanagement to snowball out of control.
Most Venezuelans are fed up now, but frustrations will only exacerbate the suffering. Maduro must be given an escape route where, temporarily, he can avoid the international justice system. Stopping Maduro is not a means to an end, it is simply the beginning of an uphill struggle that can eventually rebuild Venezuela into a prosperous nation once more, this time with a more diversified economy.
Originally published at http://prismpress.co.uk on April 1, 2021.