The reign of Nicholas Maduro may be nearing an end as Venezuela reaches a breaking point after being ravaged by socialism. Maduro has declared that he will “defeat a coup,” and the military has his backing, but lacks the backing of nearly the entire international community.
Desperate to cling onto power, Maduro has declared his replacement Juan Guaidó a “puppet regime for the interests of the United States empire.” If we’re to take Maduro’s logic at face value, we’d have to believe that the hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators in the streets are a secret cabal of wealthy people (in a country with a 90+% poverty rate) looking to advance American “imperialist” interests. Color me skeptical.
It’s no surprise why the citizens of a country where the average person lost nearly 20 pounds in 2017 alone are fed up with the status quo, and it doesn’t require any conspiracies about American meddling to explain it. While you’ll only really see claims resembling Maduro’s in state-run socialist news outlets such as TeleSur or among basement dwelling communists on Twitter, at least one member of our House of Representatives is echoing the rhetoric.
Myth 1: Venezuela’s Regime Change is a U.S. Backed Coup
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has built herself a reputation for skills in using social media to her advantage – and fellow socialist freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar is set to create the opposite reputation. Like Maduro, Omar claims that Trump is trying to install a far-right opposition that will destabilize the nation. To be honest, I’m not sure how Venezuela could possibly be destabilized any further.
A US backed coup in Venezuela is not a solution to the dire issues they face. Trump's efforts to install a far right opposition will only incite violence and further destabilize the region. We must support Mexico, Uruguay & the Vatican's efforts to facilitate a peaceful dialogue.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) January 25, 2019
Plenty of right-wingers have long joked that phrases like “far-right” are used by the modern left to describe anyone to the right of Joseph Stalin, and that appears to be the case with Maduro’s potential replacement. Juan Guaidó is a member of the centrist/social-democratic Popular Will party, which is part of the Socialist Internationale.
With the support of Congress and the hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans across the country protesting, Guaidó has declared himself President until Maduro steps down and free and fair elections can take place. While Omar would like to present Maduro’s overthrow as American in origin, nearly the entire nation of Venezuela is rising up against Maduro, and virtually every country in Latin America has recognized Guaidó as the new President. One of the few countries that does back the Maduro regime is Russia – though I suppose mentioning that would disrupt another narrative.
It’s noteworthy that none of the so-called “Democratic” socialists in Congress (with the exception of Bernie Sanders) have denounced the Maduro regime themselves. Maybe that’s because “democratic” socialism isn’t so different from plain-vanilla socialism.
Myth 2: Venezuela’s Collapse Was due to Low Oil Prices, Not Socialism
Another common claim from socialists in denial is that despite the hellscape Venezuela has become, it’s not due to socialism, but rather because their economy was largely dependent on oil exports, and the price of oil began crashing in late 2014.
Oil exports account for 25% of Venezuela’s GDP. One can only then wonder why the citizens of Saudi Arabia aren’t starving in the streets too, given that a larger percentage of their economy is dependent on their petroleum sector. Oil exports as a percentage of total exports are also higher in Saudi Arabia. Similarly, while oil revenues account for upwards of 70% of Venezuela’s government revenue (when prices are high), they account for 85% of government revenues in Saudi Arabia.
Furthermore, Venezuela’s problems predate a crash in oil prices. Food shortages began in 2011 when Hugo Chavez was still alive and oil prices were at their peak, near $110 a barrel. Inflation also soared to nearly 30% that year, though that’s nothing compared to the incredible 1 million percent inflation seen in 2018.
Myth 3: Venezuela Isn’t “Real Socialism”
The claim that Venezuela isn’t “real socialism” can be debunked by simply pointing out that there wasn’t a single socialist complaining that Venezuela wasn’t “real socialism” before the nation’s failure was undeniable. In fact, Venezuela was praised by socialists and other leftists as a socialist success story pre-collapse.
In 2007 economics Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz praised Venezuela’s economic policies, telling an audience that “Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appears to have had success in bringing health and education to the people in the poor neighborhoods of Caracas, to those who previously saw few benefits of the country’s oil wealth.” “It is not only important to have sustainable growth,” Stiglitz later added, “but to ensure the best distribution of economic growth, for the benefit of all citizens.” They’re enjoying an equal distribution of poverty now.
Bernie Sanders re-published an article on his official Senate website that argued: “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today than they are in the land of Horatio Alger.” Un-prophetically, the article concludes with the line “Who’s the banana republic now?” (Answer: Venezuela).
“Hugo Chavez declared the oil belonged to the ppl. He used the oil money to eliminate 75% of extreme poverty, provide free health & education 4 all,” tweeted documentary filmmaker Michael Moore in 2013. Socialist Labor MP Jeremy Corbyn wrote after Chavez’s passing “Thanks Hugo Chavez for showing that the poor matter and wealth can be shared. He made massive contributions to Venezuela & a very wide world.”
Noam Chomsky praised Hugo Chavez for his “sharp poverty reduction, probably the greatest in the Americas,” a compliment that Chavez returned by holding up a copy of a Chomsky book during a United Nations speech.
Perhaps the term “not real socialism” can be used synonymously with “failed socialism.”