Thoughts on Venezuela
At the conclusion of having watched the short clip of several large vehicles drive into a frenzied, if not justifiably fistic crowd of people gathered on a Venezuelan street, I was immediately reminded of another atrocity of recent vintage. The one to which my mind anxiously raced occurred only a few years ago, albeit thousands of miles away, in the purportedly more stable, civilized, and progressive nation of France.
There, in the beautiful port city of Nice toward the middle of that politically reverberative year of 2016, a terrorist of Tunisian descent murdered eighty-six people and wounded nearly five hundred more. At the insistence of ISIS (though not without the receptivity to villainy and hatred by which the killer was surely voluntarily possessed) Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel’s fervid religious conviction and animosity toward the West led him to commit one of the worst terrorist attacks that the continent has yet seen. In their state of vinous exaltation, the hundreds of gathered French patriots were smacked to the pavement by a massive nineteen-tonne cargo truck under his control. The horrible display of corpses left in his wake, copiously strewn about the picturesque Promenade des Anglais, was the result of his vehicular jihadist assault on liberty and on life. The people were concentrated on the street in celebration of the day on which their loathsome ancien regime was dispossessed of its most imposing and fantastic symbol—the jailhouse of the Bastille. July 14th, as is well known, marks the day on which that bastion of royalism and absolutism almost bloodlessly fell and the insufferably wretched and hungry French state was freed.
A “wretched” state doesn’t begin to capture the situation in which Venezuela finds itself at present. Indeed, so far as the Venezuelan people are concerned as yet another year of the Maduro regime limps toward the summer months, wretchedness would be a lofty aspiration—one about which the now tropical, now tyrannical state could only hope to dream. Yet dream it must, for why else would there be any reasonable incentive for the people of that long-oppressed nation to gather in the streets, to risk their lives, to protest their government, and to combat their own version of their South American ancien regime? We’re watching in the South a revolution in slow-motion.
Replacing the chateaux of old with the Chavismo of new, Venezuela has been governed not by royalists but by socialists for the past twenty years. Yet when one more inquisitively compares the terms, there appears to be in them very little difference of which one might care to take note. Hugo Chavez, having fancied himself a renascent Simon Bolivar melded with an illustrious Bourbon, took what might’ve been the most prosperous and naturally well-endowed of South American countries and turned it into a pit of indigence and despair.
Verdant and ripe, with oil reserves by whose capacity even a somnolent nation might be made rich, Venezuela was stifled by the economically vitiating policies of Chavez (they’ve since been compounded by Maduro). A dictator of the tin-pot variety with pretensions toward international renown, Chavez made overtures toward fine-sounding socialist ideals that served to obfuscate his deeper, more pernicious intentions. The export of the country’s oil made Venezuela an impressively profitable state, and that profit was jealously guarded by the state. Subventions were given to public utilities and redistributionist programs bloomed, all of which proved a munificent veneer atop a terribly malicious state.
Chavez, ostensible champion of the laboring class, purchased with his nationalized oil revenues political support and favors from a select few. That was all he needed to retain power. To his delectation and dizzying caprice, he altered the country’s constitution some two-dozen times. At last count, it’s been changed in strikingly fundamental ways on no fewer than twenty-seven occasions. By contrast, the Constitution of the United States (a model of national federation, one might add, to which Chavez’s idol Bolivar once aspired) has been as frequently amended, but there lies the difference. While America’s Constitution is amendable, it is, at its core, inviolable. That of the Venezuelans, on the other hand, is well-neigh disposable. If not that, it’s obviously flimsy and regarded ill.
Between Chavez and his successor Nicholas Maduro, they first extended and then removed presidential term limits, nationalized all weapons manufacturing (thereby dispossessing all average citizens of their last defense against the government’s long, despotic arm), swallowed nearly all industry, and rescinded common private property rights. Thus, the people have been rendered not only impotent—in both a political and a physical sense—but also property-less. Outside of an explicit sanctioning by the state, entrepreneurs can’t hope to open businesses and enjoy the hard-earned profits by which they should be awarded and to which they should have unimpeded access. An endeavoring and capitalistic spirit is therefore unavailing and, not surprisingly, absent in that state. Lucre isn’t to be found in earnest labor and the free exchange of goods, but rather in sycophancy and political connection so far as it concerns Maduro, the current big man at the top.
And as the big man, Maduro has felt it his duty to hold together his fraying country with an increasingly violent and ironclad grip. Evidently, that grip entails him blocking vital medicines and rations from entering his country from abroad. Sent not to embarrass him, these life-saving and preserving imports were administered from afar rather to aid the hungry and sickly masses, of whom many have taken to eating garbage and dogs. That said, to reveal his state as being pervious to and in need of these provisions would diminish his strength.
For that reason, he resisted any outside help—much to the detriment of his languishing people. It also entails him ordering his soldiers—whose fealty to him appears to have become increasingly tenuous in recent months and days—to fire upon civilians with rubber and then real bullets. Warning shots have become legitimate salvos. And at last, it includes him ordering his military’s vehicles to be driven into protesting crowds—hence my recollection of France.
In France, it was a terrorist and a terrorist state upon whom responsibility lay for the driving of a truck into a helpless, non-combative crowd. In Venezuela, it was a socialist and a socialist state upon whom such responsibility is placed. Yet the crowd in the second of the two nations won’t soon disburse and won’t turn to mourning. Their desperation won’t allow them and they haven’t the time for a solemn, national dirge. And we, the civilized westerners to whose moral and now materiel support they look, should encourage them to stand back up and take a swing. Theirs is a good fight, as is that against the terrorists attacking France and the wider world. They may bring their trucks, but the wheels of liberty won’t so easily deflate. The people of Venezuela mustn’t be cudgeled by trucks nor smothered by Maduro’s goons. They must fight, for their own and their country’s sake.