Well, voting is underway today – in Venezuela. The troubled South American nation hasn’t gone to the polls to vote for a new government, however, but a constituent assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution. A few months ago, when these proposals were unveiled, an unofficial referendum was held in which seven million Venezuelans voted; 98% of them rejected the proposals, but the proposals are going ahead regardless. And Remoaners think they’ve got it bad here. The move to convene the constituent assembly followed the decision in March when the Supreme Court announced its intentions to take over the National Assembly, which is run by the opposition. Although the protests that greeted this announcement caused it to be reversed, President Nicolas Maduro was accused by the opposition of attempting to stage a coup, and it is Maduro’s determination to carry on regardless that seems to be tearing Venezuela apart, even if problems run much deeper and go back much further.

Venezuela is hardly unique amongst South American countries in experiencing ongoing difficulties when it comes to democracy, but external events have also contributed to its current crisis. With 95% of its export revenues dependent on oil, the diminishing global value of the commodity has hit it hard. Widespread food shortages have been the most devastating manifestation of the economic collapse, with figures estimating almost 75% of the population has lost an average of 8.7 kg in weight in the absence of proper nutrition, whereas only 15% of medicines are readily available. The hyperinflation that has struck the nation as of last year has seen consumer prices rise by a staggering 800% and the annual inflation rate has been estimated at 160%. As if things weren’t bad enough, the country also has an appalling murder rate.

Anyone who happens to be a regular listener of Radio 4’s wonderfully eye-opening institution, ‘From Our Own Correspondent’, will be familiar with Venezuela’s decline in recent years, though the powder keg atmosphere has finally erupted into violent protest this year and the country now appears to be at breaking point. The portrait of society in a state of collapse that ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ has documented often seems uncomfortably reminiscent of the chaotic circumstances in Germany after the First World War, the ones that created the conditions for the rise of Nazism.

Nicolas Maduro’s predecessor in the Presidential office, the late Hugo Chavez, had written the Venezuelan constitution in 1999 that his successor now seeks to overturn. Chavez used to carry the constitution around in his pocket, the ‘little blue book’ he was prone to brandishing whenever a camera was on hand. As architect of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution, which had ideological allies in other Socialist South American nations such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua, Chavez embodied the classic anti-imperialist revolutionary leader in a Castro vein that has regularly proven popular amongst those opposing the foreign policies of South America’s northern neighbour. When the great Socialist experiment invariably runs into a brick wall, blaming US intervention in the country’s affairs in remains the default excuse, and Chavez knew how to play that one.

The legacy of Chavez’s populist reforms, which were initiated when the Venezuelan economy was riding high on astronomical oil revenues – and included the nationalisation of major industries, excessive public spending, and the establishment of social programmes to improve the health and education of the population – began to reveal themselves in a less benign light at the point when Chavez lost his battle against cancer in 2013. They may have appeared admirable on paper, but Chavez failed to curb endemic corruption in public office and the police force, not to mention lowering the murder rate; a master of propaganda like Hugo Chavez was able to paper-over these cracks in his Socialist vision, but his successor has not been so fortunate. In many respects, Nicolas Maduro inherited an unenviable economic time-bomb not unlike the poisoned chalice Tony Blair handed over to Gordon Brown in 2007, though one suspects UK-style austerity would seem like affluence to most Venezuelans today.

Nicolas Maduro’s response to the crisis has been perceived as the President desperately trying to save his own skin rather than putting the interests of the country first. The aborted attempt to silence the opposition by taking over the National Assembly hasn’t deterred his determination to convene a constituent assembly that will have the power to override the democratic institution he failed to seize control of. Over 6,000 candidates are standing for the constituent assembly, none of them from the opposition, which has boycotted it wholesale. But while international condemnation of the election has been summarily ignored, one of Venezuela’s prominent neighbours Colombia – only just emerging from its own turbulence – has also refused to recognise the result when it comes.

The President hasn’t done himself any favours by cracking-down on more physical opposition to his power; since street protests began in April, upwards of 3,000 protestors have been detained and dozens have been killed. The most high-profile presence on these protests has belonged to ‘The Resistance’, a masked group claiming to be the protectors of peaceful protestors; they generally head the marches and are prepared to fight fire with fire when confronted by police and security guards. A ban on demonstrations hasn’t had much of an impact, with the barricades manned again on streets in the capital Caracas as the government continues to insist the constituent assembly will be the only solution to the anarchy of recent months. But Venezuela has so many more problems than that, and genuine solutions are in short supply.

© The Editor

12 thoughts on “THE (SOUTH) AMERICAN DREAM

  1. Yet another case of an emerging nation proving unready to manage itself.
    We often forget that we’ve spent hundreds of years gradually formulating a mature political system which, despite our frequently vociferous complaints about it, always manages to achieve moderation, whichever party appears to be temporarily in power. That didn’t happen overnight and any nation which expects to achieve that degree of stability and public well-being in less than a few generations is kidding both itself and its people.

    Venezuela could easily have become the blueprint for Scotland, if the Jocks’ independence referendum had gone the other way – the wholesale dependence on the market-price of a single commodity is no way to run an economy. Either unaffordable profligacy with the peasants to win popularity or corruption with your mates, or both as in Venezuela’s case, cannot survive – even the knee-jerk blaming of America eventually rings hollow, even with those bribed peasants. The outcome is usually bloody.

    And this weekend we also learn of another junior failed-state, Pakistan – the Supreme Court dismisses the president for family corruption (what a surprise) then, lo and behold, who should succeed him but his own brother – one must assume he is from the non-corrupt side of the family! That would be a first for Pakistan.

    Venezuela’s not the first, nor will it be the last – the greatest sadness is for the majority of the entirely innocent citizens of these banana-republics, who just want to get on with their lives, look after their families and gradually enjoy the fruits of sustainable development. They never get a choice, or a fair crack of the whip, when their so-called leaders offer them fantasy futures now, but without the wherewithal to deliver.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The post-colonial example of numerous African nations seems to demonstrate how much Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the majority of those are relatively recent ‘independents’ compared to the South American countries. That the latter still appear to be caught in a cycle of corruption, dictatorship and muddled political systems applied more as a populist alternative to the imperialist school of rule than as a genuine way forward for the benefit of all is indeed a shame, particularly for those (as you say) not in a position to change the system.


    2. “Venezuela could easily have become the blueprint for Scotland, if the Jocks’ independence referendum had gone the other way – the wholesale dependence on the market-price of a single commodity is no way to run an economy.”

      I think we are getting rather hyperbolic here, no?

      I don’t think even the dregs of the (mainly foreign-owned) ‘British’ right wing tabloid yellow press went as far as to suggest that ‘Venezuela could easily have become the blueprint’ for an independent Scotland, particularly as the main political party involved in advocating in favour of Scottish independence, the SNP, were clear that their vision for Scotland’s ‘independence’ involved Scotland remaining in the EU.

      In other news, Norway, Switzerland, and even Iceland are doing pretty good, last time I checked. All independent countries, all of which are not even in the EU, and only one with significant oil resources.


      1. OK, guilty as charged of a little hyperbole – but it usually winds up the Scottish contingent, so always worth a shot.

        Norway is an interesting case, offering an example of how a mature state manages windfalls from oil revenues. The Norwegians have used their oil-wealth of the last few decades to establish a sovereign wealth fund (one of the biggest in the world), in order to provide for long-term benefit from this momentary geological bonus. There’s no evidence of massive corruption, just the quiet, responsible act of fixing the roof while the sun’s shining, because they know there will be cloudy days ahead.
        If the Venezuelas of the world used Norway as a model, they’d enjoy a far better result – instead they use profligacy, corruption and victimhood. (Sounds a bit like Scotland again . . . .)


      2. “OK, guilty as charged of a little hyperbole – but it usually winds up the Scottish contingent, so always worth a shot.”

        🙂 As it happens, I’m Irish. IIRC you yourself are Scottish, or am I confusing you with a different poster?

        “If the Venezuelas of the world used Norway as a model, they’d enjoy a far better result – instead they use profligacy, corruption and victimhood. ”

        Completely agree.

        “(Sounds a bit like Scotland again . . . .)”

        Hmm…I’m not seeing Sturgeon as a Chavez or a Maduro. Or a Che Guevera for that matter. I think she is a pragmatic and sensible politician.


      3. As with most Brits, I’m a mongrel with known bits of Irish and Scottish in there somewhere, but not the Pure Scot with which you may confuse me.

        Nicola Sturgeon is a smart cookie, who knows how to play the game – up to a point – and she may have reached her point now. Like Chavez, she plays the voters like a violin and they’ve liked the tune – her next challenge is to manage her voters’ expectations downward to match her capacity to deliver, which is much lower than her rhetoric. If she achieves that, she’ll prove smarter than Chavez etc. – but the odds are against her.

        I’ll wind up the Irish next time, just for the hell of it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. “Why nations fail – the origins of power, prosperity and poverty” gives a cogent explanation of why certain countries are destined to fail – repeatedly. Despite a history of disastrous blunders to learn from the mistakes are pre-programmed to be made again and again.

    It’s a bit repetitive – failures all fail for the same reason (crap laws, or good laws not universally / impartially enforced. You don’t accept attachments here but I’ll be happy to upload it to an e-mail.


    1. Attachments can be posted, but what happens is that more than one attachment to a comment (even by a regular) automatically places the comment in a sort of suspended animation until I check on the blog and see a little orange dot that indicates a comment requires approval. It’s just a safeguard against spam, really, and I can make the comment appear on the site with the flick of a switch.


      1. There is nothing I can see here about attachments, just “Leave a reply’, a text box and links to social media thingies. I tried pasting in the text box, it wouldn’t have it. There is a strange tick box at the lower left but ticking it makes no difference.

        The book is about 10 mb, by the way, so a substantial attachment.


      2. Ah, I’m not sure how it works from the perspective of someone leaving a comment, as quite a few commentators do post links and I assumed it was fairly straightforward. If you remind me of the title and author of the piece, I can always look it up online myself. Or perhaps one of the other regulars could leave a comment on here, advising you how to attach a link or copy and paste one?


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