There are basically two narratives presented on the existing crisis in Venezuela as articulated by some columnists, representatives of local groups and letter writers in the press. The first is that the current situation was all planned by the US as part of a strategy to destabilise the Government of Chavez and now Maduro because it did not find favour in Washington. In pursuit of this strategy, the political Opposition inside the country was mobilised in collaboration with business elements, other groups, and the media to mount and publicise consistent protests against the Government. Juan Guaido, the current head of the National Assembly, who proclaimed himself as interim President is an unknown and was, in fact, groomed in Washington for this role. The US not only persuaded many European and Latin American countries to endorse him but also influenced the international media to report negatively on the unfolding situation in Venezuela.
The response of the Maduro Government in putting down protests and bringing charges against its leaders was intentionally publicised as repressive which brought forth sanctions by the US Government.
As a result, shortages of every kind were experienced including foreign currency, food, basic medical supplies, and other essential goods. The consequence was that living conditions for many Venezuelans became a desperate challenge resulting in a mass exodus to neighbouring countries.
According to this view, the development of the current crisis was all orchestrated by the US authorities in order to remove a legitimate Government that was committed to bringing fundamental socio-economic change for the benefit of the masses of the country. This change included state control of the commanding heights of the country, particularly the oil industry, restrictions on capital both foreign and local, curtailment of privileges of the elite and redistribution of incomes in favour of workers and the poor. Given the legitimate pursuit of these objectives by a sovereign nation, US intervention to bring about regime change was regarded not only as a violation of international law and convention but as morally unjustified.
It was therefore obligatory on countries which supported the principle of non-intervention, non-interference, and respect for national sovereignty to resist such incursions by the US and support the embattled incumbent regime and the status quo in Venezuela. No doubt Prime Minister Rowley was influenced by such thinking when he “assured that he would hold Government’s position supporting Nicholas Maduro as President of Venezuela, saying his administration ‘feared none’”. (Newsday 27/1/19). It will be recalled that, although committed to democracy, the rule of law and the preservation of human rights, T&T Government’s, as well as Caricom’s position, was also one of ‘non-intervention’ and ‘non-interference’ when Forbes Burnham was engaged in his ruthless dictatorship in Guyana and the conduct of repeated fraudulent elections.
The other narrative contends that, by its own misguided policies and actions, the Maduro Government has been responsible for the disastrous collapse of the economy with dreadful consequences for its people. The restriction on foreign capital and the march towards State control of the economy resulted in not only the paucity of foreign investment, which was vital to the development of the country’s vast oil reserves, but also in significant capital flight. State control of the oil industry through PDVSA and other entities spawned huge inefficiencies and massive corruption which had a devastating impact on government revenues. The decline in oil production and the fall in oil prices further compounded the Government’s problems.
The populist mandate for redistribution in favour of the lower income groups was only a temporary palliative since it ignored a basic principle that wealth first has to be created before it can be redistributed. If, however, policies are pursued which are inimical to savings, investment, and productive activity but geared towards consumption and free-spending, then such redistribution could not be sustained. In order to maintain current levels of redistribution without any comparable increases in production, large budget deficits became the norm supported by huge increases in the money supply and consequent rampant inflation. The situation in which there were shortages and unavailability of almost every commodity in Venezuela was therefore internally generated by flawed policies. A humanitarian crisis of alarming proportions was created and was the genesis of the migration of over three million Venezuelans (one-tenth of the population) seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
The political crisis was the other aspect of the enduring misfortune afflicting Venezuela. The legitimacy of the Presidency of Nicholas Maduro was contested since the Presidential Elections of May 2018 which were deemed neither free nor fair. The electoral process was rigged, Opposition leaders were jailed or otherwise excluded from contesting and the security forces were used to intimidate opponents of the regime. In order to hold on to power, Maduro had to resort to repressive measures and widespread human rights violations.