Where have all the Chavistas gone?

Ettore Fiorani
June 2, 2017
Anybody seen Sean Penn or Oliver Stone or Noam Chomsky in Caracas lately, pleading with angry, hungry Venezuelans to stop rioting against the Maduro government and support the revolutionary vision of the late socialist saint Hugo Chavez? How about Canadian Chavistas Linda McQuaig and Naomi Klein? Surely they all believe the country’s current economic and democratic meltdown is the result of a conspiracy by western capitalists and imperialists. They better get that story out quick, writes Ettore Fiorani, before they catch blame as enablers of the world’s next failed state.

Where have all the Chavistas gone?

Ettore Fiorani
June 2, 2017
Anybody seen Sean Penn or Oliver Stone or Noam Chomsky in Caracas lately, pleading with angry, hungry Venezuelans to stop rioting against the Maduro government and support the revolutionary vision of the late socialist saint Hugo Chavez? How about Canadian Chavistas Linda McQuaig and Naomi Klein? Surely they all believe the country’s current economic and democratic meltdown is the result of a conspiracy by western capitalists and imperialists. They better get that story out quick, writes Ettore Fiorani, before they catch blame as enablers of the world’s next failed state.
Share on facebook
Share on Facebook
Share on twitter
Share on Twitter

At the height of his “Bolivarian Revolution,” the late Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez was the darling of western progressives. Left wing celebrities like actor Sean Penn and filmmaker Oliver Stone hugged him in photo ops; public intellectuals like Noam Chomsky gave their blessings. Alberta NDP MLA Rod Loyola used to proclaim his admiration, as did prominent Canadian leftists like Linda McQuaig and Naomi Klein, and “Chavista” support groups sprang up across the country. Just as the “useful idiots” of the West once ignored the bloody authoritarianism of the Soviet Union, a new generation of “deluded pimps”, blinded by their hatred of capitalism and American “imperialism,” willfully overlooked Venezuela’s descent into autocracy and insolvency.

Fast-forward to 2017, and most of the apologists for Chavism have gone quiet as Venezuela lurches towards being a failed state.

Low oil prices, epic government mismanagement, and hardline socialist policies have plunged the nation into an economic disaster. Venezuela faces skyrocketing unemployment and the International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will reach 2000 percent by 2018. This, coupled with rampant abuses of power by the state, has resulted in widespread political unrest, including riots which have led to violent clashes between protesters and the Venezuelan police and army. In recent protests, 48 people have been killed.

The nation’s beleaguered president, Nicolas Maduro, has taken the lion’s share of the blame. Maduro’s incompetence has certainly exacerbated what U.S. President Donald Trump calls “the mess” in Venezuela, but the man chiefly responsible for it is Hugo Chavez. Though he died in office of cancer four years ago, the country’s rapidly disintegrating democracy and economic problems are a direct result of his legacy and ideology.

The cycle of ruinous economic mismanagement leading to public dissent and government trampling on democracy was pioneered by Chavez. Although he came to power in 1998 through a democratic election, he first tried to take it by force six years earlier in a military coup against democratically elected president Carlos Andres Pérez. The failed rebellion left dozens dead and injured and earned Chavez two years in prison.

Protests against the Maduro government are growing increasingly violent and deadly.

It also won him some powerful friends, allies and imitators. The Castro regime in Cuba were long time supporters. In Bolivia, the populist-socialist Chavez clone Evo Morales has been president since 2005, and has declared he will seek re-election despite recently losing a referendum in which he asked Bolivians for an exemption from a constitutional term limit. Chavez also encouraged Bolivarian uprisings in other Latin American states and established Iran as an ally. The violent Colombian narco-terror group FARC was supportive, although Chavez failed to recruit more moderate regional socialists like Chile’s Michelle Bachelet as reliable allies.

In a 1998 interview, Chavez said he would respect Venezuela’s constitutional terms limits and not seek re-election. Then he ran and won three more times, with each election accompanied by escalating allegations of fraud. In another interview, Chavez vowed to respect freedom of the press and not to nationalize private media. His regime subsequently moved to curtail criticism of the government through media regulation and shut down Venezuela’s oldest private TV station.

Like Chavez, Maduro uses a façade of democracy to cloak his authoritarianism. In 2015, the Venezuelan opposition won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly. But earlier this year the Chavez-appointed Supreme Court ruled that the Assembly was unfit to perform its constitutional duties, and transferred its lawmaking powers to the Court. Effectively, this rendered the election meaningless and gave more legislative power to Maduro and his cabinet. The regime has done some backtracking in the face of rising public protests, but shows no sign of relinquishing power. In fact, the country’s electoral panel, also stacked with government loyalists, has blocked efforts by the opposition to trigger a recall referendum for Maduro.

The Chavez-Maduro regime also neutralizes democratic opposition by eliminating its strongest individual voices. In 2011, politician Oswaldo Álvarez Paz was arrested and sentenced to “conditional liberty” for daring to suggest publicly that Chavez was not a democrat.  According to Human Rights Watch, several media personalities that opposed Chavez were arrested or placed under criminal investigation. If anything, political persecution has intensified under Maduro. Two-time presidential candidate Enrique Capriles was recently banned from running for public office for the next 15 years. Opposition leader Leopoldo López has been a political prisoner since 2014, after the government arrested him for “conspiracy” and other dubious charges. Former Caracas mayor and vocal government critic Antonio Ledezma is also behind bars. He was arrested in 2015 after Maduro accused him of being involved in an American plot to overthrow the government.

The regime’s economic abuses have been at least as clumsy and destructive as its democratic ones. Chavez kickstarted his socialist project with a nationalization rampage, which saw hundreds of privately owned businesses seized by the state. He took over companies in nearly every sector including oil, steel, energy, agriculture, finance, gold, transport, tourism, and telecommunications. Foreign firms such as Cargill Inc. and Canadian-owned Rusoro Mining were among the targets, which caused major international corporations like Exxon Mobil to quit the country, taking their capital with them. Despite the catastrophic impact on investment and jobs, Maduro has continued the practice, most recently confiscating an automotive plant from General Motors, which earned him a stern rebuke from the Trump administration in Washington.

Once one of the richest countries in the Americas, today Venezuela suffers food shortages. The economy is so dysfunctional it cannot produce or distribute enough domestically-produced food to satisfy demand, and the country is so broke it can’t afford to import it. By one estimate, the average Venezuelan has lost 19 pounds over the past year. There are other shortages of consumer products and services affecting everything from electricity to toilet paper. Maduro claims the bourgeoisie and big business have conspired against the Bolivarian revolution and are orchestrating the shortages to stir up Venezuelans against the government, but fewer and fewer people believe it. The shortage of basic goods has been exacerbated by the government’s price controls, which discourage production. Price regulation, which began under Chavez, has led to a vicious downward spiral featuring ever-greater regulation leading to ever-shrinking production. It is currently estimated that more than three quarters of Venezuelans are living in poverty.

Venezuelans, starved for food and basic needs, escape in droves from the socialist government to Colombia (Image: AFP / George Castellanos)

For years the government has tried to solve its fiscal and economic problems by selling oil and borrowing and printing more money. Now it faces massive debt and a rising risk of default. In the hands of the Chavistas Venezuela’s economy has become less diversified and more dependent on oil exports. In 2012, oil accounted for 95 percent of all Venezuelan exports. With the fall of oil prices in recent years, the nation’s foreign currency reserves dropped by half, to around $10 billion. Chavez ran chronic deficits of more than 10 per cent of GDP when the price of oil was high. Since the price has fallen, government deficits have risen. In 2016, the budget deficit stood at about 20 per cent of GDP.

Venezuela’s situation matters to the whole region and could impact the whole hemisphere. With a population of 30 million, the 5th biggest economy in Latin America, the biggest oil reserves in the world, and close economic and political relationships with several countries in the region (i.e. Cuba, Bolivia), if Venezuela does not change course there will be serious regional consequences. For one, Cuba will suffer without oil or economic support from Venezuela. In Brazil, the state of Manaus recently declared a state of emergency due to an influx of Venezuelan migrants. Colombia is also being inundated by Venezuelan economic asylum-seekers. The Curacao coastguard has had to save migrants from perishing in the Caribbean. Even in Canada, the number of refugee claims from Venezuela has doubled.

The Trudeau government has said little and done less about the crisis, while the Trump White House is considering further sanctions on the regime. Meanwhile, hunger, anger, and violence continues to proliferate in Venezuela, and with President Maduro seeking to expand the civilian militia (charged with protecting the Bolivarian Revolution), things may be about to get even worse. The international community made the mistake of indulging and ignoring Hugo Chavez and his dangerous project for far too long. But don’t hold your breath waiting for mea culpas from the western progressives who cheered his rise. They’re too busy looking for their next revolutionary hero.

Love C2C Journal? Here's how you can help us grow.

More for you

Too Hard to Kill: Towards a Fair, Equitable and Science-Based Equalization Program

Death and taxes are said to be life’s only certainties, but it seems Canada can add a third: the federal equalization program. Alberta and other contributing provinces may despise the $21-billion-per-year-and-growing inter-regional transfer, but equalization is in the Constitution, making it all-but impossible to cancel. The formula that determines how much money is doled out – and who gets it – could, however, be changed by Parliament anytime it chose. Were a new formula to be proposed that was fair, equitable and clear, perhaps such a thing could even gain public and political support. Combining months of painstaking research into fiscal data with his scientific background, Jim Mason presents a detailed case for a new, science-based equalization funding formula.

The Passing of a Prairie Lion
Ted Byfield, 1928-2021

DIED: Edward (Ted) Byfield, 93, a journalist and educator who founded three boys boarding schools in Manitoba, Alberta and Ontario (1957 to 2008) and Alberta Report newsmagazine (1978 to 2003), who gave voice to the political frustrations and demands of western Canada, alongside many other conservative causes, and was instrumental in the founding of the Reform Party of Canada, and who published two series of books on the history of Alberta and the history of Christianity, and who shaped a generation of writers through his tutelage and commitment to the foundations of good journalism; of congestive heart failure, in Edmonton. [Editor’s note: Written in the style of obituaries in Alberta Report.]

Divestment Won’t Stop Fossil Fuels – Nor Should It

The fossil fuel sector – oil, gas and coal – appears under pressure from all directions. “Ethical” investing is all the rage, “woke” hedge fund managers extol green energy companies, world economic leaders sneer that fossil fuel assets will become worthless, and climate-obsessed politicians intone their mantra of an “energy transition” to an all-electric nirvana. Why, then, are world crude oil and natural gas prices zooming? Why is there a bull market in traditional energy stocks? Why do credible forecasting agencies predict fossil fuels will remain key to global energy security until at least 2100? And what might this portend for the fossil fuel divestment movement? William McNally pithily explores these questions.

More from this author

Did Canada’s first immigrants fall from the sky?

Aboriginal grievance and entitlement stories made a lot of news in Canada in June. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau renamed National Aboriginal Day as National Indigenous Peoples Day. He also renamed his office to erase its historic link to Hector Langevin, an architect of the residential schools system. And he gave the old American embassy in Ottawa to native groups. Still aboriginal activists weren’t satisfied. So they badgered an apology out of Governor General David Johnston for calling First Nations peoples immigrants. Which left Ettore Fiorani and Paul Bunner wondering, where on or off earth do these insatiably aggrieved activists come from?

All swagger, no substance

Canada’s Liberal government announced a wholesale makeover of foreign and defence policy this week that repudiated much of what they ran on in 2015. Instead of cheap soft power diplomacy, they’re now promising expensive hard power militarism. It’s exactly what U.S. President Donald Trump wants Canada to do, but the Liberals say they’re doing it because they can’t depend on Trump to reliably defend the free world anyone. Whatever the case, writes Ettore Fiorani, this hawkish new Liberal doctrine is likely to go down badly with their voters and is therefore unlikely to last any longer than the Trump presidency.

Share This Story

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on print


Subscribe to the C2C Weekly
It's Free!

* indicates required
By providing your email you consent to receive news and updates from C2C Journal. You may unsubscribe at any time.