walter russell mead peter berger lilia shevtsova adam garfinkle andrew a. michta
AFP/Getty Images
Published on: February 27, 2014
Venezuela Burning
Anti-Chavista Protests Face Long Odds

The economy is crumbling, political dissent is being ruthlessly punished by the regime, yet the student and opposition protestors barricading the streets are still fighting an uphill battle.

Russell Crandall is a professor of international politics and American foreign policy at Davidson College. He previously served as President Barack Obama’s national security aide for the Andes. His upcoming book is America’s Dirty Wars: Irregular Warfare from 1776 to the War on Terror (Cambridge, 2014). Paige Donnelly is an undergraduate political science major at Davidson.
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  • PKCasimir

    The statement that Venezuela’s problems of inequality and poverty under Chavismo have decreased is based on a study that used the government’s highly artificial value of the bolivar in relation to the dollar, instead of the international or black market rate. If you use the actual value of the bolivar as opposed to the artificial government one then, in fact, poverty and inequality have not improved under the “Bolivarian Revolution.” Mr. Crandall, a member of President Obama’s totally incompetent set of advisers on South America, might be better off explaining how Venezuela’s poor are better off with Chavez/Maduro’s incompetence in squandering billions of dollars of oil revenue that could have been spent on infrastructure, jobs, training, and encouragement of private enterprise that could have improved their lives and those of their children.

  • qet

    Well, I don’t know all the facts, but isn’t it the case that inequality must necessarily be reduced by impoverishing the middle and upper classes? So could that be partly responsible for the situation in Venezuela? I mean, you never hear anything about inequality in Cuba, right? Making a fetish of equality is about the most dangerous thing there is.

  • dfooter

    I think no reasonable observer would say that anyone (besides the people in power) will be better off in Venezuela in the future, whatever short-term temporary gains the poor have made. But it is certainly irrelevant in regards to the longevity of the Chavista movement. The incompetence and kleptocratic behavior of the upper and upper middle classes throughout Venezuelan history have ensured that the political divide is so severe that the protest movement, even if it seeks to benefit the greatest mass of people, will not succeed. The poor feel that Chavismo is the only path forward, and they support the government. They would rather go down the path of Cuba than relinquish power, and the military and the government are informed by this support. The middle and upper classes cannot live with the current regime (sometimes literally) and they have no policies that appeal to the poor. The best that can be hope for is that some portion of the ruling regime (let’s call them practical Chavistas) will see the dead end of the current direction, and remove Maduro themselves in favor of a socialism-lite that will allow some sort of an economic revival. But the longer repression is the order of the day, the less likely that will be the outcome.

  • Tom

    Quick thing: the Venezuelan people aren’t wrong about their poverty being the result of corrupt politicians and businessmen. They are wrong about how to fix the problem.
    Also, of course the Chilean students are opposed to the Venezuelans. They’re thinking of this in terms of Allende and Pinochet, instead of the actual facts on the ground in Venezuela.

  • Anthony

    As one reads this featured essays, one cannot escape Acemoglu and Robinson’s premise that institutions matter (political/economic). Venezuela (not necessarily Chavismo) remains in the sway of historical forces – extractive political and economic systems – the vicious circle (extractive political institutions lead to extractive economic institutions – power is valuable in regimes with extractive political institutions because power is unchecked and brings economic riches).

    “When extractive institutions create huge inequalities in society and great wealth and unchecked power for those in control, there will be many wishing to fight to take control of the state and institutions. Extractive institutions then not only pave the way for the next regime…but they also engender continuous infighting and civil wars. These civil wars then cause more human suffering and also destroy even what little state centralization these societies have achieved. This also often starts a process of descent into lawlessness, state failure, and political chaos….” So, in Venezuela as in other parts of Latin America, typical pattern of vicious circle underlays Chavismo.

  • Fat_Man

    The White House and the State Department are safely in the hands of the Fair Play for Cuba Committee. They won’t let Maduro or Castro down.

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