Venezuela

Venezuela: At the Edge of a Deeper Chasm

Nicolas Maduro's brand of socialism has brought poverty, hunger, and death.

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Guayana City, Venezuela—Once the Latin American country with the highest growth rate, now the poorest in the hemisphere, Venezuela is in free fall. Hundreds are dying from diseases, some of them all but eradicated, because of a shortage of medicines and vaccines. According to the consultancy firm Econometrica, 2.1 million Venezuelans are now eating from the garbage.

Its citizens are at war with the military. The situation has so deteriorated U.S. President Donald Trump surprised Latin American leaders this past Friday when he said, "We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary." Trump later added, "Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and they're dying."

The real enemy responsible for this lethal landscape is not foreign. This destruction has come from within. For almost two decades, Venezuela's socialist government has managed to undermine every institution that kept the country afloat.

When Hugo Chavez ascended to the presidency in 1998, he had an agenda: Bring socialism to Venezuela, then export it to the rest of Latin America. His successor, Nicolas Maduro, has continued the country's hurtle down a slope paved by the total destruction of the means of production. Indeed, he has managed to sharpen the slope.

On May 29, the Supreme Court of Justice declared the National Assembly in contempt and usurped its functions. That unleashed a series of protests, which in turn generated a wave of repression that has so far killed more than 130 people and imprisoned nearly 1,400. Maduro declared victory at the end of July with an illegal election. The company that provided the voting system alleges that the results were tampered with.

Sixteen people died violently on polling day.

The violence, the repression, the assault on fundamental human rights, and the rupture of the constitutional order have prompted opposition leaders to defend two critical articles in the Constitution:

Article 333: This Constitution shall not cease to be in effect if it ceases to be observed due to acts of force or because or repeal in any manner other than as provided for herein. In such eventuality, every citizen, whether or not vested with official authority, has a duty to assist in bringing it back into actual effect.

Article 350: The people of Venezuela, true to their republican tradition and their struggle for independence, peace and freedom, shall disown any regime, legislation or authority that violates democratic values, principles and guarantees or encroaches upon human rights.

T-shirt Soldiers

The resistance is mainly composed of teens and young adults born under socialism, fighting to defend the country from what they believe will be the deeper abyss of communism. T-shirt soldiers, they call them.

"Bubble" is a 23-year-old journalism student who set aside his studies for a "greater good." Raised in a leftist household, he grew tired of watching poverty take over everything, including his own home.

A T-Shirt Soldier shows rubber bullet wounds from a morning skirmish with police, a few blocks from Mangokistan. // Jackson Salas

Bubble and some 20 other resistance members call the place where they are entrenched "Mangokistan." Los Mangos—a residential area in the port city of Guayana, in Bolívar State, in the eastern part of the country—has become a place of perpetual war.

The Bolivarian Intelligence Service has the area under surveillance. It seizes people on any pretense. Walking down the street can get you arrested.

The area was recently attacked for more than 20 hours, just because the resistance blocked the streets. What they mostly resisted was the constant tear gas and rubber bullets fired at them by the National Guard.

"I left my home because my parents support the government, when sometimes we didn't have enough to buy groceries," Bubble tells me. "Now I live in the different places of those who back us. The truth is that we are doing this because we are tired of seeing people starving and dying of the lack of medicine. Living under these conditions is feeling helpless, like we have no future. We do not follow opposition leaders, we are not politicians. We are willing to do this even if it costs us our lives. Until Venezuela is free."

These street fighters make shields with just about anything. Their weapons are fireworks and Molotov cocktails. They constantly cover their faces and change their names for fear of being identified and detained, like a lot of their friends.

"Living under these conditions is feeling helpless, like we have no future. We do not follow opposition leaders, we are not politicians. We are willing to do this even if it costs us our lives. Until Venezuela is free."

According to the non-governmental organization Foro Penal—Spanish for Criminal Forum—278 have been detained in Bolívar State alone. Only 12 of those detainees have been formally accused by prosecutors. The others have been accused by judges who have usurped the prosecutor function; 21 of them have been released under injunction, while 40 are under injunction but still in custody. The others are under house arrest.

"We shelter them and provide them with food because they are mainly teenagers that just want a better future," "Beatitude" tells me. "They are fighting for everyone's freedom. Living like this is terrible. We don't sleep because we are constantly under surveillance or under attack."

A neighbor, who also wishes not to be identified, says they live with the horror of being besieged. "There was one time a National Guard gun pointed at me with my six month old baby in my arms," she says. "They broke into the apartments without a warrant."

Despair

"Fernanda" is the mother of "Rojo," a political prisoner who has been detained for nearly 80 days, longer than all the others. He should have been sent home under injunction 50 days ago. She uses a false name because her son is still in jail.

On April 19, plainclothed officers removed Rojo from Mangokistan and took him to a park, where they tortured him until he lost consciousness. "He told me these men punched him, dragged him to the asphalt, burned his chest with a lighter and suffocated him," Fernanda says. "They wanted the names and locations of other members of the resistance."

Three hours passed without Fernanda knowing Rojo's whereabouts. She didn't know he had joined the resistance, let alone he had been arrested. "The neighbors told me they found out by Twitter and Instagram," she said.

Fernanda later learned Rojo had been taken to a maximum security prison, Centro Penitenciario de Oriente in El Dorado, three hours from his home. They did not allow him to shower for seven days, and he got scabies.

Vehement protest of his arrest brought Rojo back to his previous detention site, where he has fought off hardened inmates, Fernanda tells me. At one point, she says, he spent days in the sun and rain, tied to a pole.

Currently he is in a cell with no windows, where he and other prisoners sleep on the floor. They aren't allowed outside.

"He is literally rotting in jail," says Ezequiel Monsalve, coordinator of Foro Penal. "In almost 80 days he has been denied every humanitarian measure. He hasn't been seen by a doctor."

With her brother in prison, a young woman who has renamed herself after her country has joined the resistance. // Jackson Salas

After all that has occurred, Rojo's sister, a 21-year-old student, has now joined the resistance. She calls herself "Venezuela," her mother says.

"I feel like a prisoner myself," Fernanda says. "Both of my children are in life-threatening danger. They used to never get out of the house. Rojo only used to sometimes go to play soccer in the afternoon. He is a sweet innocent boy, always respectful and kind. Now he is desperate to get out and I know that the minute we finally have that chance I have to take him to the doctor and a psychologist. He is not well. Everything that has happened has had an impact on him. Despair is what I am living every day."

Neglect

The Venezuelan people struggle every day with inflation. To buy groceries is almost a miracle. The minimum wage has been increased three times this year by government fiat; including a food stamp allotment, it is now roughly 250 thousand bolivars, or $25 a month. The basic food basket for a family is almost 1.5 million bolivars, more than $150. Famine is taking over.

Basic drugs have become scarce. Malaria has struck hard, killing 66 people this year. Diphtheria, once all-but eradicated, killed 25 people, most of them children, in 2016. Cancer, AIDS, diabetes, and hypertensive patients are dying without medication. Doctors' hands are tied.

This summer's vote is widely considered a sham. Electoral authorities said more than eight million people, or 41.5 percent of the electorate, voted. Yet a Reuters reporter claims to have seen an internal memo from the Electoral Council saying fewer than four million votes had been cast just two hours before polls closed. Opposition leaders and even the attorney general agree that participation was closer to 12 percent.

This latest phase in the drift toward dictatorship began with the dismissal of Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz. The assembly plans to take further legal actions against her and opposition leaders, claiming they are "terrorists."

Venezuela isn't an island, but each day the country becomes more isolated. In less than a week four different foreign airlines have stopped operations here.

Over the past 17 years, nearly two million Venezuelans have left their country. As of 2016, nearly 23,000 have applied for political asylum with the U.S., the largest number from any one country.

The exodus is increasing. As many as 25,000 people daily cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge into Colombia. Some return; many do not. Colombia is treating them as refugees. The Colombian government has opened a shelter in Cúcuta, at the Venezuelan border.

"We are ready to offer help to any Venezuelan citizens that need it," Colombia's foreign minister, María Ángela Holguín, recently told a local radio reporter in Cúcuta.

Mercosur, South American sub-regional economic bloc, has expelled Venezuela over its failure to comply with democratic principles. The United States government has frozen Maduro's American assets, and U.S. companies and individuals are now banned from doing business with him.

Washington is considering further actions against Venezuela's oil industry, which could prove devastating in light of the ongoing economic crisis. Vice President Mike Pence said Monday in Colombia, "we're looking at the full range of additional economic sanctions."

International sanctions will only make things worse. The food and medicine shortages will deepen. More people will die.

In the streets, people continue to protest. Some military groups have joined the resistance, which struggles to maintain the few free spaces left. Last week, former military captain Juan Caguaripano led an assault that briefly captured the Paramacay army base in Valencia, about two hours west of the nation's capital.

The rebels were driven out. The government says there were rebel deaths; the rebels deny it. Caguaripano's forces made off with weapons, and the assault created a social media stir. Caguaripano says he is moving on to training civilians to defeat Nicolas Maduro's socialist dictatorship.

It has come to this.

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45 responses to “Venezuela: At the Edge of a Deeper Chasm

  1. OT:
    I was late showing up to the (Doherty) latest PC scribblings Reason posted about Charlottesville.

    1. I haven’t seen Matt Welch around in a while. I hope it is because he is mortally embarrassed by what a piece of shit this rag has become.

    2. The Jacket used to be a diligent advocate for the (soon to arrive) libertarian moment. But he’s turned in his John the Baptist Robes for some shiny new Judas Sandals. Be careful near the deep end, Nick. It’s hard to keep your head above water when your pockets are full of all that traitor’s silver.

    3. There’s a slew of new writers (early call-ups from the uneducated ranks of orphans?), and they all suck ass.

    Here we are at a moment in history when REASON could really be a shining light of actual reason, and they have utterly failed. Intellectual and moral cowards. Fuck all of you.

    1. Why do you continue to comment here then? Surely there are websites out there dedicated to whatever narrow version of libertarianism that you’re looking for, and will never challenge your delicate sensibilities with scary new ideas and different perspectives.

      1. What a stupid fucking response.

    2. We can at least thank Trump for showing us who the NAZI sympathizers are here.

      1. That’s no way to talk about the Reason staff.

      2. You’re a Nazi sympathizer palin?

      3. Everything I have said about Charlottesville is premised on this:

        “I Disapprove of What You Say, But I Will Defend to the Death Your Right to Say It”

        Which is one of the most libertarian things I have ever heard and is nothing I’ve ever heard Shreek say.

    3. Charlottesville is a special moment in history? It is an interesting bit of news, but damn, put it in perspective. Especially in light of this article about Venezuela. Things are good up here. There are groceries down at the store, gas in our cars, people walking around going wherever they want. Come out of the basement and see.

    4. The above has nothing to do with Venezuela. Stop the trolling.

  2. Military intervention… Hmmm…

    Definitely not something that should be done unless the War is already well and begun, and it becomes clear that a US intervention could shorten the conflict. Or, of course, if it somehow looks like the Chavistas might actually win (although how they could stand a chance at this point is unfathomable).

    The one good thing about it is that unlike Libya, VZ actually has a legitimate Assembly already in existence, and so restoring rule of law would likely go relatively smoothly once Maduro’s head has been properly placed upon the pike.

    1. Please tell me you’re kidding.

      1. Did my comment somehow give you the impression that I am eager to intervene? Military intervention should always be a last resort. But the US has a vested interest in eliminating Marxist dictatorships that have strong ties with China…

        …When they do not do us the courtesy of destroying themselves. And in this instance, it seems that Maduro has indeed done us that courtesy, rendering military intervention an unnecessary extreme.

        I was also not suggesting that the Venezuelan Assembly would be useful *to a US invasion force*, but rather that it would be useful *to the Venezuelan people*, regardless of how Maduro is eliminated.

        Anyway, I consider myself in no way obligated to take you seriously: after all, what kind of nerd uses an obscure LOTR reference as his handle?

        1. The reason I asked if you were kidding is it seemed bizarre to think “we” (USA) have any right or moral or legal authority to invade Venezuela. I am unable to think of a justification. I am a libertarian, it is anathema to me.

          Call me crazy.

          1. Hello, Crazy!

            But seriously? What possible good would result from military intervention in Venezuela? How does one restore a ravaged economy by destroying, through military action, what a little economic infrastructure still remains? And what could possibly restore the prestige of the current regime more quickly than giving it ground to argue that it was a correct all along to blame Venezuela’s problems on the United States, and to say, “see, we told you they were simply waiting for an excuse to invade us?”

            1. I agree with all that you said.

              Maybe I am too naive and ideological but even if I was convinced military intervention was a win-win-win for us, the V’s, and the world at large, I would be opposed.

              I believe the US military exists to defend the US, not to ‘do good’. In other words, my idea of limited government includes limited military. As small as possible to accomplish its proper function.

            2. That infrastructure is going to be destroyed now no matter what. The Venezuelan people are preparing for war. Maduro will not surrender peacefully.

              The key is to remember that Venezuela already has a legitimate government (currently in quasi-exile), and furthermore has no potential to become an Islamist haven. You will recall that absence of those 2 factors is what turned Libya into a debacle. Without those 2 problems, an air campaign in support of VZ rebel troops could *hopefully* avoid that same result.

          2. No direct attack was made on the Western Allies when a certain individual invaded the Sudetenland. Did we have no “moral or legal right” to intervene then?

            Dictators are aggressors against their own people, and so any and all (targeted) attacks upon a dictatorial government are allowable under the NAP. The question is only whether such intervention benefits the intervening party, and the local population.

            As mentioned, Maduro is a Chinese ally. Chinese power structure in South America is not desirable; but under normal circumstances, not worth starting a conflict (military or diplomatic) over. However, if the nation in question is already in desperate need of assistance fighting a despot… The two interests fall neatly together.

            Please recall that America only exists today because a foreign power (France) gave us help in our time of need (with the goal of undercutting an enemy, no less). Please also recall that said foreign power ended up calling in that debt, to its great benefit.

            1. I’m sure I’m naive about this subject. But it seems we’ve gotten in a lot of trouble and caused a lot of trouble by being so willing to justify interventions. I think a little more reluctance could go a long way. I see your point about the early days of our country, however, since then, our leaders have rationalized a lot of foolish endeavors.

              1. Skepticism of American interventionism is the opposite of naivet?. We have screwed up these sorts of campaigns many, many times, and so you are absolutely right to look upon such a notion with concern.

                Like I said: it would only be a good idea if it seemed as though it might bring a fast end to the conflict, or if the Maduro regime looked like it might win.

                Needless to say, I do not trust the Trump administration to use good judgment in such matters.

                At any rate, I certainly wouldn’t advocate for more than air support. A conventional invasion with boots on the ground would, if nothing else, cost far too much with the amount of debt we’re currently in.

                1. Good stuff. Nice chatting.
                  Stop by some time, Goldberry makes some killer Swedish meatballs.
                  Just turn right at Old Man Willow.
                  Hey Ho.

                  1. @ Tom Bombadillo

                    You are equally welcome at Rivendell, if you ever decide to take a trip out of that stuffy old forest and get some fresh air!

              2. Oh, and “Telcontar” is also an obscure LOTR reference, if that wasn’t clear.

                1. I didn’t know it, but looked it up. Awesome nerdism there.

            2. Hmmmm….comparing Germany’s invasion of the Sudetenland — which was part of a separate country ? ? with internal economic and political collapse within Venezuela. I think I am on the verge of detecting the flaw in this particular analogy?

              If and when Maduro invades Columbia or Aruba, I’ll be with you. Until then, military intervention is a bad idea. Also recall that for historical reasons, whether you consider them well-founded or not, all of Central and South America is wary of American military intervention. Rightly or wrongly, they see this as a repeat of gunboat diplomacy, which plays right into the hands of the idiot left.

              1. @ Number 2

                My point was that a dictator does not need to attack the US directly, in order to be a legitimate target. The Sudetenland is not the 51st state; we should have helped regardless.

                And America *was* part of the British empire when France helped us, so that analogy at least, I think, stands.

                You are correct that Latin America has a not-unjustified fear of US interventionism. But I was only suggesting intervention as a last resort, if Maduro seems to gain the upper hand.

                It’s actually possible the other countries of South America might do it themselves at this point.

              2. I think the only measured response left to any of the turmoil going on tin the world is:

                The united states is in no economic position to wage conflict for any reasons. We have over extended our government coffers to the point of insolvency and unless provocation exists on our immediate border, the US will no longer engage in nation building, policing failed states, or exporting military aid to nations at war. oh, and sorry we helped that mess in the middle east boil over.

                And monkeys might fly out of my butt.

                1. The united states is in no economic position to wage conflict for any reasons. We have over extended our government coffers to the point of insolvency and unless provocation exists on our immediate border, the US will no longer engage in nation building, policing failed states, or exporting military aid to nations at war. oh, and sorry we helped that mess in the middle east boil over.

                  Addendum:

                  “We will, however, continue to trade freely with any nation that wishes to peacefully trade with us, without any ‘woke SJW’ nonsense attached to said trade agreements.”

                  1. “without any ‘woke SJW’ nonsense attached’

                    I don’t know how I can argue with such reckless hatred.

                    Anyway, airstrikes aren’t that expensive, compared to a full invasion. I was never suggesting landing troops.

          3. OK, you’re crazy. The world would be a better place without the regime. The real eternal question is whether it’s possible and worth American lives and resources to get Venezuela back on track, and whether that’s worth even arguing about.

    2. if it somehow looks like the Chavistas might actually win (although how they could stand a chance at this point is unfathomable).

      I don’t see it as that unfathomable. They still control most of the military, although, per this article it sounds like some military units are starting to side with the rebels, but unless the majority of the military goes over to the rebel’s side I doubt they’ll be able to win.

      Also, the problem with intervention is that Maduro et al have been claiming for a while now that a lot of the problems in Venezuela have been caused by “American interference.” Military intervention will only strengthen that bullshit excuse and make it seem to a lot of people like Maduro was right about our so-called interference.

      I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m pretty sure intervening militarily will not help the situation very much.

      1. There’s no way at least 40% of the military doesn’t defect or go home, and with an 80% disapproval rating Maduro stands no chance without that 40%.

        More to the point, the US should only intervene if the war is already well and started. By that point, whether or not Maduro gains a propaganda victory will be entirely immaterial, compared to whether or not the airstrikes turn the tide against his forces.

        I have great hope that the Venezuelan people will not need our (military) assistance. And if we could get the OAS to invade on our/their behalf, that would probably let us avoid the problem entirely.

  3. But if only all the wrong thinking rioters would just return to the socialist fold and work harder at their assigned jobs, the economy would improve, and everyone would share equally in the benefits of a workers paradise. The US should stop encouraging those who are obstructing the true way.

    1. The exodus is increasing. As many as 25,000 people daily cross the Simon Bolivar International Bridge into Colombia. Some return; many do not.

      Also, if these wreckers, hoarder, and saboteurs would only stop fleeing with their capital, we could make this work. For realsy this time…

  4. Some military groups have joined the resistance, which struggles to maintain the few free spaces left. Last week, former military captain Juan Caguaripano led an assault that briefly captured the Paramacay army base in Valencia, about two hours west of the nation’s capital.

    The rebels were driven out. The government says there were rebel deaths; the rebels deny it. Caguaripano’s forces made off with weapons, and the assault created a social media stir. Caguaripano says he is moving on to training civilians to defeat Nicolas Maduro’s socialist dictatorship.

    I wish this Juan Caguaripano guy the best of luck for now. Hopefully, if the rebels win and he ends up in charge he doesn’t turn out to be just as shitty as Chavez/ Maduro but I won’t hold my breathe.

  5. VZ was a kleptocracy, and the article does a great job detailing the horrors of authoritarian regimes.

    But you’ll notice that the quotes don’t touch on socialism, bc that isn’t how Venezuelan’s view the problem, like reason does. But to Reason’s desired point, obviously when you tie higher levels of corruption with higher levels of state control, bad shit happens.

    1. When the state gets authority to seize anything, it tends to attract corruptible power hungry leaders. What happens next is very predictable.

  6. Venezuelans are finding themselves on the receiving end of socialism.

    Which is “not real socialism,” apparently.

    They never see it coming, I guess.

  7. “Nicolas Maduro’s brand of socialism has brought poverty, hunger and death.”

    I’m sorry, did I miss the brand that does otherwise?

  8. Military intervention? What happened to the good ol’ tried and true CIA covert operations?

    1. I suspect that the CIA spends most of its time and resources covering up past mistakes.

  9. Whenever one hears of the high level of violent crime on the South Side of Chicago, one should realize that it is for much the same reason as the collapse of Venezuela. Too much government, too much top-down planning and “control”, too much concentration of power, too much authority, too many laws. The middle-class used to be able to bear this much bureaucracy and corruption because a decent job and income made it bearable, but the underclass is getting buried by the sheer weight of the bureaucratic burden.

    And every additional law, every additional regulation, every additional tax just pushes another marginal neighborhood into the realm of the underclass. Unfortunately, every marginal person pushed into the underclass wants to believe the problem will be solved by another law, another regulation, and another tax.

    1. Sounds like it’s getting past the point where it even matters whether the regime has that much support except from the people on the payroll. Not very different from North Korea, only NK is armed to the teeth against outside powers.

  10. Did anybody else consider the reporting on percent of voters, to be anything but a mess?

    Electoral authorities claim 40+%, or 8 million votes.

    Two hours before polls close, Electoral Council says maybe 4 million votes. That would be 20% already.

    Then opposition and the attorney general (?) say more like 12%.

    1. Figures lie, but more importantly liars figure.

  11. If they can’t do something to drive a wedge between the armed forces (corrupt thugs) and the regime, then there’s nothing left aside from invasion…which would only happen if the Trump administration found an excuse. Yet another incursion into latin america, oh boy. Doubt that will happen.

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