If you think Latin American communism and idyllic subsistence farming is the way to go, boy does South America have a nation for you.
You might think it’s the 1950s or the middle of the Cold War when American-style capitalist democracy was waging a war against Soviet-style communism. It seems that everywhere you look, the market has spoken, for better or for worse. Russia has gleaming steel towers and a stock exchange. China is like the biggest thing since sliced bread apparently, with Davos going so far as to herald it as the poster child of globalization at this year’s World Economic Forum. Even Cuba is inching its way out of Castro-style communism by opening up to the United States. Meanwhile, across the sea in Venezuela, the Socialists United Party (PSUV) of the late Hugo Chavez is sticking to their narrative of savior Simon Bolivar and how the powers of a repressive, foreign capitalist system is bad, very bad, for the lumpen proletariat of South America. Communism is clearly better.
Too bad for Venezuela that PSUV has squandered much of the country’s wealth, sending some of it into south Florida housing. Their central bank has $10 billion left to its name. They can keep raising the minimum wage, but where is all of this money coming from? Venezuela is nowhere near becoming a socialist-democratic society like Europe, with state run health care and free colleges and high taxes to pay for the best of it all. Venezuela is running out of middle income people to tax. The rich are either in Miami, Spain, Italy, or working for PSUV. (Or spending all their money on private security.)
Yet, despite the fact that the evidence is clear — socialism is not working in Venezuela — its leader Nicolas Maduro is hellbent on making it happen. It’s 2017, and communism is back, baby!
This week moved Venezuela closer to a communist autocracy. Maduro called for a constituent assembly of allies, which appears to be yet another step towards staying in power forever. Speaking at a May Day rally on Monday, Maduro told state employees and PSUV fans that a new constitution was needed to protect the state from a “coup d’etat”.
There are no details on why Maduro needs to re-write the constitution other than to turn Venezuelan democracy into something more closely related to communism. He says the opposition is waging an economic war against him, as if the millions of people who have marched against PSUV since September are shooting themselves in the foot by hoarding food, medicines, and forcing oil prices so low that oil firm PDVSA is hanging by a thread. This narrative of economic warfare is the narrative of foreign colonial powers versus the indigenous population. It is a narrative of old world banana republics, popularized by the late Hugo Chavez who had $150 oil to save him. PDVSA had a lot of money then. The government took that money and redistributed to the poor. It was a good game. You win the hearts and minds of a large portion of the population, and you even gain support among the middle class who own stores and dental shops that now catered to a lower class that had money to spend.
Those days are gone.
“We assume this represents at best a distraction technique to avoid the election cycles or a worst an attempt to further consolidate power,” says Siobhan Morden, managing director for Nomura Securities in New York about Maduro’s latest power grab.
The constituent assembly is really a move towards one-party rule. It is formed via “communes or workers” as opposed to the democratically elected political parties. It escalates the political crisis to a new phase of intensity with the risk of backlash from the diplomatic community, led by the Organization of American States, or OAS. Venezuela isn’t worried about the backlash from foreign political entities, especially ones with strong ties to Washington.
Long time Chavez supporter, Mark Weisbrot of the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington pointed out recently in a Huffington Post editorial that Venezuela has no friends in the OAS and is right to leave it.
“Venezuela needs a negotiated solution because it is still a polarized society,” he says, pointing out that some 25% of the population still support Maduro, which is more than can be said for Brazil, Mexico and Colombia’s presidents. The problem there is that 75% do not support him, at the very least, which is not a polarization of society at all. It is quite an obvious and massive disdain for the ruling PSUV.
Moreover, corruption is so deeply embedded in the government, and touches so many actors within the ruling system, including ranking members of the military, that there is too much at stake for these individuals to let PSUV throw in the towel.
“It appears unlikely that we will see any substantive change of government in the short term, and even if Maduro steps aside, a change in leadership will not necessarily equate to a change in government, in which case the same story is likely to prevail,” write Center for Strategic and International Studies analysts led by Adam Sieminski in a note on May 1.
Everything in Venezuela politics today uses the language of communism, from “collectives” to actual “communes” that are part of the executive branch. Sources in Caracas tell me that armed collectives keep the urban poor at bay, making it harder for them to join protesters in the streets. This has made it easier for PSUV to say that the opposition represents a bourgeoisie that does not have the poor’s interest in mind.
It’s not clear why Maduro chose to announce a revamp of the constitution in favor of one-party rule. He could’ve just waited for protest fatigue.
The local headlines reflect skepticism on the constituent assembly process with the member participation based upon direct selection from within the “Communal Power” registered by the Minister of the Popular Power of the Communes.
Venezuela is rebranding itself into a communist state. Maduro’s constituent assembly is just another step in that direction.
Kenneth Rapoza Forbes