Of all the world’s troubled spots, I feel particularly close to one: Venezuela. There I have lived and worked, and since that period ended, I keep in touch and follow developments. Will 2019 be the year when the crisis in Venezuela culminates?
In my blog I have written earlier (on the Swedish page) about the country’s economic decline and the political crisis. These have only gotten worse during the past year. A veritable migration of Venezuelans is happening now, with people fleeing shortages, hyperinflation, malnutrition and chaos, hoping to find a better life in neighboring countries. The UN reports that 3 million people have left so far – one of the largest refugee crises in the world. People suffer and the strain on the neighboring countries is mounting.
The government of President Maduro has not been able to turn around the negative development, despite the country’s richness in resources. Instead the regime clings to power, i.a. by neutralizing the opposition and its leaders. In a snap presidential election, brought forward to May and without participation by the leading opposition forces, Maduro was reelected for another six years. Most neighboring countries, as well as the US and EU, view this election as illegitimate.
January 10th, 2019 is the day when the president will be installed for the coming six-year period. It is likely that this will lead to internal protests as well as manifestations from abroad. The political crisis is accentuated by the fact that the National Assembly, which was legitimately elected in 2015 with a clear majority for the opposition, has been stripped of its power through court decisions and the election of a separate Constituent Assembly, completely in the hands of the governing party.
Venezuela will have to get out of this crisis, for which it pays such a high humanitarian and economic price. The question is how. The regime has rather strengthened its grip on power and leans on the military for support. The generals express their support for the “revolution” and are probably well rewarded for that. The opposition is neutralized and, in addition, disagrees internally on the way forward.
There are different, more or less unpleasant scenarios for the future. A military intervention from abroad is the worst. That is not a likely development, but Venezuelan as well as foreign politicians are sometimes, irresponsibly, flirting with that option. A palace revolution within the governing socialist party may be possible but won’t bring a solution for the failed economy. If people’s living conditions continue to deteriorate, the present despair could turn to deeper popular anger. History teaches that such a rage can form a tidal wave, able to wash away also a regime with a firm grip on power.
The petroleum industry and the oil export are the foundation for Venezuela’s economy. Also that base has eroded during the last fifteen years. In the early 2000s the country produced over 3 million barrels per day. The oil revenues, which were enormous in the period 2011-2014 with very high oil prices, were used to a large degree for social programs and for support to other countries, to enhance Venezuela’s political standing. Also, accusations come from all directions that large amounts were embezzled through corruption. What is sure is that maintenance and investments in the oil industry were neglected, and today the country produces only a little over 1 million barrels per day. This, in the country that reports larger oil reserves than any other. At the same time, oil prices have fallen back to a more moderate level. The large refining industry in Venezuela limps ahead and can only use a portion of its nominal capacity. Transportation fuels are imported to satisfy domestic demand.
A prerequisite for the recovery of the Venezuelan economy is that the petroleum industry is restored. When that foundation has been rebuilt, other sectors can also get power to grow. But Venezuela, on the edge of state bankruptcy, cannot achieve such a turn-around on its own. Collaboration with other countries and international institutions is necessary. The Maduro regime attempts to solve the dilemma through loans from China and Russia, in return for “mortgages” in the petroleum resources. That is a solution that in the long term will undermine sovereignty, contrary to the exalted, nationalistic rhetoric of the regime.
The sustainable solution for Venezuela is reestablishment of a democratic government through free and fair elections. That would open the door for humanitarian support in the short term. Through de-politization of the judicial system and through the restoration of confidence from the outside world, the economy can be rebuilt, step by step. It is a process that will take time, but Venezuela has both the natural and the human resources to make it possible.
The attempts to reach a constructive solution to the crisis through dialog between the regime and the opposition have failed, so far. But it should be in the interest of all true patriots to choose that way. Other possible outcomes could be very unpleasant. If good forces collaborate, 2019 could be a year when the pressed country reaches a turning point.