Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – “Venezuela is not Ukraine,” quoth Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff recently, and in a technical sense, she’s certainly right. There is no secessionist movement in the provinces which are not controlled by the government, and there is no foreign power invading Venezuelan territory.
Yet there are certainly a few parallels, one of which is that the Venezuelan government has been killing demonstrators. Purposeful killings, done with intent by government troops or, more likely, the vigilante groups of private thugs hired by Chávez to keep order in places where the Army or the police couldn’t be trusted to shoot down innocent people opposing his regime.
President Dilma apparently thinks that’s okay, since she has never issued a single word criticizing the Venezuelan government for those killings. Moreover, she managed to browbeat representatives of Mercosul into a statement justifying the repression of protests as necessary to preserve democracy in Venezuela. Dilma fears protests in Brazil will prevent her re-election, so naturally agrees they must be repressed.
Then she wonders out loud why the European Union is not anxious to seal a trade agreement with Mercosul. The reason, of course, is that Mercosul now includes Venezuela, after a completely illegal violation of Mercosul’s own rules, which involved cynically excluding Paraguay so that it could not veto Venezuela’s entry. Once Venezuela got in, Paraguay was allowed back in.
The other parallel with Ukraine is that Venezuela today represents a return to the Cold War, a re-heating of what was supposedly dead and buried in 1989. It’s not a return to the Iron Curtain; rather, Venezuela’s thing is Communism vs Capitalism.
Or, if you must, “Bolivarian Socialism” vs “Neo-liberalism”. For almost a century before Chávez took power, Venezuela was capitalism run riot—an entrenched elite oligopoly ran every single part of Venezuelan society and economy. When Chávez came to power, he promised the people one thing only: the exploitative oligopoly formed by the rich and powerful would be thrown out of power immediately and would never return.
Chávez kept his promise. He threw the elite out (most emigrated to Miami) and handed power to his own cronies, thus ensuring that “Bolivarian socialism” would be the future of Venezuela. Part of this future involved calling for lots of money to be thrown at problems. He could do this because PDVSA, the national oil company, floating on the rising tide of oil prices, had lots of money.
Dilma still hopes that Petrobras will have enough money to emulate PDVSA.
Before Chávez died he made a huge mistake — he chose the clueless Nicolas Maduro to be his successor. Maduro has blundered at every turn, and has ascribed virtually all of Venezuela’s problems to the United States. He has, in short, turned Venezuela into a sort of large, lumbering neo-communist Cuba.
Unfortunately for him, oil prices haven’t risen, inflation is rampant, food and other basic necessities are hard to find, and the Venezuelan people are getting tired of “Bolivarian” socialism which has not improved their lot.
Both Venezuela and Ukraine are, in theory, democracies. Both, in practice, are failed states, where democracy has descended into demagogy and popular revolt. There has been bloodshed in both countries; there will be more. Dilma knows this, and she should be ashamed of pretending it’s not true.