There have been a lot of articles written about Venezuela on Thought Catalog the past couple of weeks. And they frustrated me a lot because the perspective is completely one sided. If it was a Venezuelan writing about it on TC, you can bet it was either by an expatriate (former rich and educated Venezuelan) or a member of the former upper middle class of Venezuela.
You know whose voice doesn’t get heard on the subject? The poor and the working class of Venezuela. Which is why coverage tends to focus on the violence and chaos, especially in the capital. And this is why I’m glad that this timely article came out on FiveThirtyEight. Because it does a great job of giving the reader a look at both Venezuelas.
Because there is a divide between the rich and educated middle and upper middle classes of Venezuela and everybody else. What isn’t covered in the articles on Venezuela on TC is the fact that President Maduro still has a very strong base of support and legitimacy among a broad swath of Venezuelan society.
The fractured opposition sees the crime, the rampant inflation, the decline of PDVSA (Venezuela’s state owned oil company) and lament the fall of a once great country, undone by a duo of corrupt, authoritarian rulers over the past decade and a half. What they fail to mention is that Venezuela has always been corrupt, and suffered from higher poverty and wealth/income inequality prior to Chavez’ ascension to the Presidency.
What did Chavez do once he took power? Wealth redistribution, and lots of it. The end result? Millions of poor, rural, and working class Venezuelans were lifted out of poverty and given access to reliable, basic services that we take for granted in a developed economy. And he found all that wealth, in PDVSA, the elite, and the upper middle class of Venezuela.
High oil prices in the mid aughts kept his regime flush in petrodollars but once the market price for oil crashed during the Great Recession, it became impossible to ignore the decline in oil production, wrought by years of malinvestment and capital flight that happened during Chavez’ reign.
There were lots of warnings from the outside. I remember, years ago, when the Wall Street Journal would regularly tut tut his seizure of ConocoPhillips’ assets in PDVSA and decry the rampant inflation that had begun to take hold during his regime as oil prices tumbled and Western capital fled the country.
Most economists outside of Venezuela confidently predicted that years of neglect and capricious government rule would eventually doom Chavismo, but declined to say exactly when that would happen. In an ironic stroke of luck, Hugo Chavez was diagnosed with terminal cancer before his haphazardly constructed house of cards imploded. His death in 2013 made him a martyr among the underclass, and all but guaranteed the reins of power would be handed over to a trusted confidante within the regime.
Maduro now gets to deal with the fallout caused by the decade plus of Chavismo misrule. But the base that propelled Chavez to power is still behind Maduro, which is why he’s still in power. It also helps that the opposition is fractured and unable to rally behind a single movement, but without significant intervention from outside actors, it’s unlikely that they would succeed in ousting Maduro even if they were unified.
The end result? The country gets to slide into ruin as the great, silent majority of Venezuela extracts perverse satisfaction at reducing the former Venezuelan elite to (albeit slightly better educated) beggars just like them. Milton had it right: ‘tis better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.