Is Venezuela Burning?


Mike Gonzalez in Jacobin:

Between 2002 and 2014, the Right failed to dislodge Chavez; on the contrary, Chavez’s electoral support rose consistently until his death early last year. After that, his nominated successor, Maduro, won the presidential elections in April 2013. But this time the right-wing candidate, Henrique Capriles Radonski, came within 250,000 votes (under one percent) of winning.

It was a clear expression of the growing frustration and anger among Chavez supporters. 2012 had seen inflation rates hovering around fifty percent (officially) and the level has risen inexorably throughout the last year. Today the basic basket of goods costs 30% more than the minimum wage — and that is if the goods are to be found on the increasingly empty shelves of shops and supermarkets. The shortages are explained partly by speculation on the part of capitalists — just as happened in Chile in 1972 — and partly by the rising cost of imports, which make up a growing proportion of what is consumed in Venezuela. And that means not luxuries, but food, basic technology, and even gasoline.

All of this is an expression of an economic crisis vigorously denied by the Maduro government but obvious to everyone else. Inflation is caused by the declining value of the bolivar, Venezuela’s currency, itself the result of economic paralysis. The truth is that production of anything other than oil has ground to a virtual halt. The car industry employs 80,000 workers, yet since the beginning of 2014 it has produced 200 vehicles — what would normally be produced in half a day.

How is it possible that a country with the world’s largest proven reserves of oil (and possibly of gas, too) should now be deeply in debt to China and unable to finance the industrial development that Chavez promised in his first economic plan?

The answer is political rather than economic: corruption on an almost unimaginable scale, combined with inefficiency and a total absence of any kind of economic strategy. In recent weeks, there have been very public denunciations of speculators, hoarders, and the smugglers taking oil and almost everything else across the Colombian border. And there have been horrified reports of the “discovery” of thousands of containers of rotting food. But all of this has been common knowledge for years. Equally well known is the involvement of sectors of the state and government in all these activities.

More here.