Forty-one people are dead in Venezuela, political leaders are thrown in jail for leading demonstrators through road-blocked streets, food shortages worsen, and inflation continues to rise. Yet the regional power to the north, The United States, says little and does less.
There’s a reason for this, and Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, outed it in an interview with The Guardian this month. He said:
“Is 100 years of intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean not enough: against Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Chile, Grenada, Brazil? Is the coup attempt against President Chávez by the Bush administration not enough? Why does the US have 2,000 military bases in the world? To dominate it. I have told President Obama: we are not your backyard anymore.”
The United States is led by devils, according to Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez. It is trying to overthrow a Bolivarian revolution hundreds of years in the making. The ideology of the new Latin American left, scarred from U.S. action throughout the 20th century, and especially during the Communist era, sets itself in opposition to the U.S.
That means it can use the U.S. as a bogeyman whenever it likes. That is what the Obama Administration doesn’t want in this case.
“My view is that they have, over time, tried to distract attention from what’s going on [on] the ground, and have been seeking to turn the U.S. … into a scapegoat for what essentially has been the failure of the revolution,” said former U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela, Professor Patrick Duddy.
This has to be a struggle between a Venezuelan government and a Venezuelan opposition, and the picture is complicated. When Maduro won the presidential election against opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski last April, he won by the narrowest margin since the Socialist movement Chavez started took power.
“What we have seen is a deterioration of the Chavista vote and that the situation had, by April, seemingly settled into a 50-50 standoff,” continued Duddy, who now teaches at Duke University.
The election was proof that, slowly, the Socialist party had lost support. What the world is witnessing in the violence now is a truly divided society.
In a New York Times op-ed, Maduro said that this was a struggle between the 99% against the 1%, but the hundreds of thousands of bodies that flooded the streets of Caracas when protests started in February tell another story.
So what can the United States do? Senators like Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) can write op-eds saying Maduro is on a “charm offensive.” They can say that they’re “alarmed.” They can propose bills that send money to (what Maduro calls) anti-government organisations in Venezuela.
And they have done all that.
Beyond that — and this is complicated — the United States can cut down on the oil it purchases from Venezuela. Forty per cent of Venezuela’s oil is sold to the United States. It’s an important 40%, too, because many of the regional countries that Venezuela “sells” its oil to, buy it at rock-bottom prices through an agreement called Petrocaribe.
Another portion of Venezuela’s oil is shipped off to China to pay off a $US40 billion loan.
The United States also refines a lot of Venezuela’s crude oil, as the country lacks the infrastructure to do so itself.
All of this is incredibly important as oil exports are 50% of the country’s income. Without them, Venezuela cannot finance the social programs that are the promise of Maduro’s party. Without them he will lose support that he cannot afford to lose.
And if Maduro raises Venezuela’s domestic oil prices, there will be hell to pay.
“Venezuelans have historically considered very, very cheap gasoline basically a birthright,” Professor Duddy explained.
The last time a President tried to raise prices, in 1989, rioters filled the streets of Caracas and the city was in flames.
Meanwhile, the economy is still in decline. This week the IMF released a report warning Venezuela to change its ways. Maduro is running out of time. That is why, encouraged by leaders like former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, he is meeting with opposition leaders today. He has told them not to expect much.
But for his own sake, he may very well be bluffing. No one can end this but him.