Venezuela is not a socialist paradise.
Hey, progressive Seattle, I usually enjoy your socially conscious style and your steadfast resistance to the Trump agenda.
But when I see you protesting on behalf of the current government of my homeland, Venezuela, or read your theories online about an economic war designed to kill its socialist system, I have to take a deep breath.
I get your passion. I know the history of U.S. interventions in Latin America. But in this case, your drive to support the good cause is misplaced and irresponsibly naive. Here is why:
- Venezuela is not a socialist paradise.
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Yes, Hugo Chávez led a successful grass-roots movement in 1998 to bring democracy and economic equity to the millions excluded from the oil prosperity of the 1970s.
That experiment initially saw great investments in health care, education and housing that helped lower the poverty rate. But that spending was based on revenue from high oil prices, and when those prices took a dive in 2008, the whole project collapsed.
It didn’t help that billions of dollars were squandered in corruption and in free oil for Cuba. Or that the expropriation of productive businesses and farms cratered local production of food and manufactured goods, leading to shortages. Or that the great oil and mineral wealth of the country was mortgaged in wasteful loans from Russia and China.
Twenty years later, Venezuelan society is even more polarized, with a wealthy military and socialist party upper class, a vanishing middle class, and an overwhelming majority that is poorer, thinner and waiting in line.
- Venezuela is not a democracy.
It is a dictatorship dressed in a thin veneer of process. The ruling party, the PSUV, controls the military, the state oil company PDVSA, the electoral council, the Supreme Court, the Central Bank, most of the governorships and city governments, and practically all of the electronic and print news media.
The only branch of government in the hands of the opposition is the National Assembly, and it was declared null and void on dubious constitutional grounds by a Supreme Court stacked with PSUV supporters.
Opposition leaders have been jailed, exiled, tortured, marginalized. Street protests are met with live fire. Many have died or disappeared in the hands of the state intelligence service, the SEBIN.
The official president, Nicolás Maduro, was reelected last year in an election that was called early, against the constitution. Most of the opposition party leaders were disqualified from running, so there were no viable alternatives. Turnout was low, and the results were contested by international organizations.
- Venezuela is a humanitarian crisis that threatens the rest of South America.
Inflation was clocked at 1 million percent last year, and the minimum monthly salary is now worth $6 in real money. Food is scarce, and when you can find it, too expensive for the poor. Most households have been reduced to one or two meals a day, mostly starches, known popularly as the “Maduro diet.”
Basic medicines like antibiotics, insulin and even acetaminophen have disappeared from pharmacies. Hospitals are an overcrowded Boschian nightmare, and often lack supplies, power and water.
Crime is out of control. Venezuela now has the world’s highest murder rate, at 81.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. Caracas, once a haven of night life, closes its doors after dark.
Nearly 3 million of my compatriots, including most of my extended family, fled Venezuela because they couldn’t make a living. The mass migration to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Brazil is straining their resources and affecting their politics, threatening their progress after years of civil war and economic instability.
- Change is needed. Now.
So, yes, things are bad in Venezuela. But why should you, a true progressive, reconsider your unconditional support of Maduro and the Chavista revolution in favor of a disorganized, right-leaning opposition?
Because for once, the Venezuelan opposition has come up with a viable solution that relies on peaceful change. The National Assembly, using the articles of the Chávez constitution for the succession of president, has declared the election of Maduro illegitimate, making the president of the assembly, Juan Guaidó, the interim president of Venezuela.
Guaidó has called for the resignation of Maduro, a transitional government, free elections and reconciliation with military leaders affiliated with the government. He is not calling for a coup or an invasion, despite what the government says.
Guaidó has been recognized by Canada, the European Union, most of Latin America and, yes, the United States and President Donald Trump. The international recognition comes with sanctions, but also with promises of humanitarian and economic assistance to aid in any transition.
I ask you to at least listen to what they have to say. To read as many different news sources as you can to find the truth behind the propaganda. More important, to speak with Venezuelans abroad about why they left, and how their families are affected.
And if you still need to protest or comment online, do it in favor of positive, nonviolent change that can improve the lives of 33 million Venezuelans. It is the most progressive thing you can do for them.