The worsening of the crisis in Venezuela, despite its profound dramatism, would appear to indicate at first glance that the nation is dying. However, is this the case?
After three five-year periods of State economic controls, the effectiveness of Venezuela’s economic war is an argument which would appear to have largely lost credibility. According to Ricardo Hausmann, a former minister of planning of Venezuela and former Chief Economist of the Inter-American Development Bank, the socialist nation has witnessed a 35% reduction in its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) since 2013 and a reduction of 40% in GDP per capita during the same period. This drastic reduction in GDP through a government pursuit of a ruinous course of action contrasts sharply against the governmental effectiveness of its ideological allies in the region.
Venezuela continues to face crises in the financial, economic, and monetary sectors. First, the Venezuelan Central Bank has noted that the nation’s Reserves have dropped from 30 billion U.S. Dollars in 2011 to 9.9 billion dollars in July 2017. Second, the Center for Latin American Studies (CESLA) at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, predicts that the GDP will further contract 6.7% in 2017. Third, in its July 2017 Latin American Trends report for Venezuela, the Center noted “the maintenance of an economic policy oriented to control all markets, has resulted in a battery of distortions, exacerbating, even more, an adverse climate for the private initiative.” Furthermore, the report noted a 12% decline in investment flows, a 7% decline in industrial production, the continuity of scarcity levels, the maintenance of the nation’s hyperinflationary process, and the consequent decline of 6.5% in private consumption. Lastly, inflation is currently expected to reach about 800% in 2017, with some estimates at 2000% for 2018.
Academic institutions continue to struggle to explain the Venezuelan enigma. And yet, despite every effort from the opposition and every failed economic tactic by a desperate government, the Nicolas Maduro regime remains every bit as staunch in its resolve to hold on to power as the forces that seek to overthrow it. In that regard, one might say that while the hypothesis may be correct that Venezuela has adapted to economic sanctions, the nation’s political life has not been able to adapt.
Currently, foreign reaction to the Venezuelan crisis seems to be firmer and more resolute than before. The Venezuelan regime’s defiance in exerting the controversial Constituent Assembly’s sovereign jurisdiction at the expense of the duly-elected National Assembly, the expulsion of Venezuela from the Mercosur Trade Agreement, the collective agreement of the Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Lima, and the United Nations Commissioner’s Report on Human Rights all seem to have either galvanized or confirmed foreign opinion in denunciation of Venezuela’s current regime.
The new set of measures taken by foreign governments reveal the newfound conviction of foreign leaders in the power of economic and diplomatic sanctions as effective means of fostering a change in the status quo in Venezuela. Included among these sanctions are efforts directly related to Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. In the 31 July 2017 action – in accordance with Executive Order 13692 – the United States Department of the Treasury stated that under the current regime, “the Venezuelan government has deliberately and repeatedly abused the rights of citizens through the use of violence, repression, and criminalization of demonstrations.” This action was then strengthened by Executive Order 13808 (24 August 2017) and a Presidential Proclamation (24 September 2017) that blocks visas for Venezuelan government officials on business or tourism. Among other things, these various actions by the United States seek to freeze overseas financial assets of certain government officials, as well as those of their family members and business contacts.
Beyond mere politics as such, with its instrumental, immediate, and utilitarian goals, one must wonder whether Venezuela has lacked a mutual agreement or commitment to the degree of respect required by the very nature of official government policy, the decision-making process, and the crucial roles to be played by all involved both domestically and internationally in order to be successful. In this regard, corruption seems to have worked its way into every sector of Venezuelan society. In its latest Report of Corruption, CESLA scored Venezuela at 89/100, with any score above 81 denoting “an alarming level of corruption and poor [anti-corruption] controls.” On its Global Barometer of Corruption scale, CESLA noted that the Church, Education, and Health sectors were the least corrupt.
Within this flawed context and corrupt system, one must place every individual who has been called upon to participate in the process of dialogue. The failure of this process on multiple levels and occasions has caused a dynamic which has practically translated into a massive wave of human displacement whose impact in the region will be felt for decades to come.
Ultimately, the blame for the abject failure of the political dialogue in Venezuela lies, simply put, with the Nicolas Maduro regime. The reason for this assertion is amply proven by the fact that after every invitation to take a seat at the table of open dialogue, the Maduro regime has ended up with a decisive advantage, in the sense that the regime has always managed to give the appearance of a conciliatory tone in order to appease foreign pressure and yet, domestically, it has shown a total disregard for the process and a mendacious lack of commitment to fulfill a single promise made to the opposition.
During the first mediated talks, there was no electoral timeline agreed upon by the two sides. During the second round, the government insisted that a recall referendum was not possible. For the third round of mediated talks – backed by the Vatican in 2016 – the opposition attempted in vain to block the calling to session of the Constituent Assembly and maintain respect for the National Assembly. In mid-September 2017, France announced a new round of talks would be held in the Dominican Republic, under the auspices of Dominican President Danilo Medina and former Spanish prime minister José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. Those negotiations have since collapsed, with the Venezuelan opposition declaring that the Venezuelan government has failed to follow through on human rights commitments and electoral guarantees. At this point, it is simply impossible for Maduro to continue to deceive the world.
However, even the loftiest of ideals and the most immaculate of principles are powerless to effect change when there are material interests at stake. China and Russia own economic and financial interests in Venezuela and thus their hopes are tied to the survival of an anti-American regime in the South American nation. To make matters even worse for Venezuela’s political future, both China and Russia’s rapacious economic leverage grows stronger the more they are able to further exploit the growing weaknesses of the increasingly politically inept government in Caracas.
If a way out of the current situation in Venezuela is to be a global strategy, so too ought to be its negotiation. By most accounts, it seems as though President Maduro would be willing to make any and all necessary concessions that would allow him to remain in power. Facts also point to the reality that the Cuban leadership in Havana exercises the greatest influence in controlling Venezuela’s destiny at the moment, and the Cubans are perhaps the true tactical masterminds behind Maduro’s regime. More discouraging still is the fact that the current status quo in Venezuela is likely to remain unchanged as long as Cuba continues to enjoy the current bonanza of foreign tourism, remittances, and investments.
If a desirable change does not take place, Venezuela will remain the proverbial patient under examination. Perhaps the increasing profitability of trafficking in the ‘white gold’ of alkaloidal drugs will see its criminal marketability as a sadly lucrative alternative to the fossil fuel industry.
Meanwhile, the country’s mounting humanitarian crisis will continue with no end in sight, as Venezuela’s marginalized citizens will no longer be able to walk, but rather will be forced to merely drag their feet in disillusionment with the stark signs of fatalism and uncertainty on their faces as they struggle to survive on daily meals of ashes.
Dr. Alfredo Angulo Rivas is currently a Professor of History within the College of Humanities at the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, Mexico City, Mexico. Among his previous academic positions was Dean of the College of Humanities and Education at the Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela.
Dr. H. Micheal Tarver is a Professor of History within the College of Arts and Humanities at Arkansas Tech University, Russellville, AR. Among his previous academic positions was a Visiting Fulbright Scholar at the Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida, Venezuela.