Liddick: Forget Russia, Venezuela is a ticking time bomb (column)
July 24, 2017
Here's the reason we are often startled by unpleasant events in the world: While America's political establishment is busy searching for Russians under every bed in the White House, events elsewhere are moving in a direction which bodes this nation ill.
Not the chubby adolescent sociopath with ballistic missiles and nukes in Pyongyang. If he does attack us, both he and his regime will come to a rapid and spectacular end. If he tries to blackmail his neighbors with his Chinese minders' acquiescence, Beijing may soon wonder how its neighbors so quickly developed an effective anti-ballistic missile defense and nuclear deterrents of their own, dramatically altering the power equation in Northeast Asia.
Nor Iran's miscreant regime. If one doesn't understand by now the final aims of Tehran's nuclear program, its subventions to terrorist armies such as Hezbollah and the Mahdists and its activities in Iraq's north, one never will. Until waking to a Lebanon and Syria under the Ayatollahs' control and Tel Aviv vanished in a fog of neutrinos.
No, this is a problem rather closer: the war the government of Venezuela is waging against its citizens. This is a ticking time bomb in a populous and important South American country; if it explodes the results would be uniformly bad, and would resonate for decades.
The roots of Venezuela's crisis are straightforward: complete dependence on oil exports for revenues; a socialist command economy; unsustainable social spending and increasingly authoritarian rule. The latter three date from the election of Hugo Chavez to the presidency in 1999 and his rapid actions to nationalize businesses, seize control of all organs of the government and arm members of his "Chavista" movement.
With predictable results: rationing, as everything from flour to toilet paper to electricity became scarce. Civil unrest as the prosperity he promised failed to materialize and the government's "enemies of the state" excuse went from lame to ludicrous. And violence, as police were reinforced, then supplanted, by "Bolivarian militias" of armed Chavista partisans.
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Venezuela's misery worsened in 2013 with Chavez's death and the ascension of his hand-picked successor Nicholas Maduro in a snap election that blurred lines between government and the Chavista party. Unrest grew, goods, services and employment disappeared. It became clear that Chavez's revolution, instead of spreading expropriated wealth to the Venezuelan people, took it for a cabal of political gangsters to use as they pleased.
Early this year, in a bid to strengthen the Maduro government's position, its handpicked Supreme Court approved a referendum giving Chavistas the authority to rewrite Venezuela's constitution. The result was an immediate wave of revulsion, not only expressed in strikes and protests but also in a privately organized national vote on the move, which the government lost. Big. Maduro will ignore the results, insuring more mayhem.
His options are limited and shrinking. He seems unable to negotiate a solution, but unwilling to abandon power and abscond with his swag. Neither his armed mob nor the opposition seem able to bring the conflict to an end. The army has moved carefully; though many of its commanders are Chavistas, they are clearly wondering if now is the time to make a deal.
Meanwhile, chaos grows. Last Thursday millions of Venezuelans were out in a 24-hour general strike; the largest in the country's history. Hundreds were arrested, many others shot. Violence is everywhere. Looting appears to be a tool of economic life. Venezuela is approaching Thomas Hobbes' state of nature, thanks to authoritarian socialism.
Why should we care? Imagine the impact on our borders if a country with three times the population of Honduras flew apart in a maelstrom of bloody violence and looting. Imagine the impact on the world economy if OPEC member Venezuela is unable to export oil or pay its debts. Imagine the political turmoil if President Maduro, beset on all sides, calls on Cuba to help maintain order. After all, Cuba needs petroleum products and Maduro needs to reestablish order. It's a marriage made in Hell, but there's logic to it.
At present there's no sign anyone in Washington, official or otherwise, is paying attention to this unraveling situation across the Caribbean. They're too busy inventing scenarios about how Vladimir Putin persuaded Americans to vote against a presidential candidate they couldn't stomach. But when Venezuela flies apart in pieces about as big as one's thumbnail, they'll all start searching for someone to blame for the surprise.
The only place they won't look is the first place they should: the mirror.
Morgan Liddick writes a weekly column for the Summit Daily News. Email him at email@example.com.
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