The Crisis in Venezuela Hits another Transition Point: A Grim Fairytale of Sorts
This “essay — article” seeks to explore the status of the Venezuelan political crisis as it existed during the first part of August, 2017, placing it in historical context and in the context of New Latin American Constitutionalism, as well as exploring a little known domestic alternative to the principal protagonists, while very briefly observing its effect on neighboring Colombia. Its conclusions are not promising.
Keywords: Venezuela, “sociopolitical crisis”, “New Latin American Constitutionalism”, “democratic socialism”, neoliberal, oligarch.
As happens so regularly now, it’s virtually impossible to discern the truth concerning important political events. Journalism has too often morphed into a blend of propaganda and entertainment, more an exercise in creative writing for hire than a quest for truth. Perhaps our most challenging problem with respect to veracity is that most of us seem to seek confirmation of pre-established beliefs rather than truth and the Internet has enabled the generation of so much information that one can find whatever perspective one desires on virtually any theme, some of which may turn out to be (whether deliberately or by happenstance) accurate. Kind of like the old saw about myriad monkeys happily typing, leading to duplication of Shakespeare, or a dictionary, or perhaps, even real news. Hmmm.
Truth can be elusive, especially if hidden, whether deliberately or accidentally. Piecemeal it may be as detrimental as is mendacity, probably more so because of its aroma of veracity; but it’s a quest some of us feel compelled to undertake, a quest all of us need to undertake if effective popular participatory government is ever to be attained. Unfortunately, mere mistakes, even if not deliberate and thus not lies have all too similar consequences. Bad choices and bad decisions. And they abound.
Take for instance the crisis being experienced in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela during the middle of the second decade of the third millennium of the Common Era. Specifically, the events occurring during the second week of August, 1917, the period during which this essay is being written. Let’s start with a bit of context.
A bit of context
During most of its history, the Republic of Venezuela (its name prior to adding the adjective Bolivarian) was ruled, as were most of the republics in Latin America, by feudal oligarchs disguised in republican veneer; sometimes playing at democracy but more frequently just blatant oligarchies. The difference to the “common people”, those who were objects rather than subjects of the political system de jour, i.e., those who regardless of what they thought had no real say in their governance (i.e., again, most of the people) was (as it still is in most places) nil. They knew their labor was going to be undervalued but that they’d be overcharged for goods and services and that they would probably be taxed, although whether or not they’d pay their taxes was open to deliberation (the only thing they apparently shared in common with their masters). Others would be raking in the cash, living in the mansions where the “common” people served, travelling the world. The ubiquitous but very few “others”, closely related to the ubiquitous “they”, the ones who “generously” permitted the poor the privilege of seeing them enjoy life to the fullest (permitting them, from time to time, to “share” vicarious thrills through books, cinema, television, etc.).
The rich got richer, the poor got poorer and the middle class shrank, but then one day, the massive block of Venezuelan poor (80% of the population, Becker, 2017) realized that they in fact had inchoate political power through their technical right to vote which, like free will, involved a sort of gift one was not supposed to use (under threat of very serious punishment). The catalyst for the popular epiphany which took place in Venezuela in 1998 was a charismatic and very garrulous lieutenant colonel (or former lieutenant colonel) in a burgundy beret who convinced the poor to give fate a shot at something different. Since anything different was likely to be an improvement, they followed him like rats following the legendary pied piper and before long, to their utter amazement, their former masters were out of power. Not quite the same thing as the poor having attained power but it certainly seemed an improvement. They’d been promised equality, not necessarily a better life, and if their former masters were knocked off of their pedestals and forced down to the common level, well, that was strangely enticing. The former lieutenant colonel, Hugo Chavez was his name (really Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías), apparently meant well and had a model of sorts in mind, one that had not quite succeeded in its home country (the Republic of Cuba) but which in the Venezuelan context, might be significantly improved (Sustar, 2007).
The Republic of Cuba was and still is an autocratic socialist state which has not exactly thrived, rather it has survived almost sixty years of threats, invasions, blockades and embargoes from its vastly more powerful neighbor to the North, it has survived the demise of its one-time powerful patron, it has survived the death of its founder, and it has survived lacking much in the way of natural resources other than a beautiful topography and strategic location. Its re-birth as a nation in 1959 was violent, it had to be, a United States supported dictator had to be militarily overthrown, and it had never been able to attain “normalcy”, having faced perpetual threats from its former masters and their descendants as well as from their geopolitical patron a mere ninety miles away, but it has survived and in areas like medicine, literacy, education and the elimination of extreme poverty, it has thrived.
Venezuela, at least at that time (the dawn of the new millennium), suffered from few challenges other than its semi-serfdom. And Chavez had in fact (after an abortive attempt to seize power through non-constitutional means) actually managed to play by the rules and win. And when he won, Venezuela was in the midst of a petroleum generated boom making many things possible, not only for Venezuelans but for their Latin brothers everywhere. A Golden Rule for a Golden Age seemed possible.
Alas, … Murphy was not really asleep, … nor were the deposed oligarchs, … nor were their neoliberal allies to the North and to the Northeast. And that was all too quickly made all too clear.
Especially starting in 2002.
Some subsequent context
The now denominated Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela has been in crisis throughout this millennium as Latin American forces seeking to reform traditional elitist societies loyal to international neoliberalism have faced furious and consistent counterattacks (see, e.g., Gaster, 2017). Truth be told (and as we made clear at the beginning, truth is vitally important) they’d faced furious and consistent attacks even before they came into existence, when they were just very dangerous ideas, at least dangerous to those who held the reins of power at the time (and the whips and other unpleasant things).
The populist movement which attained power in Venezuela in 1998 was the culmination of Latin American experiments in socialism that may have started in Guatemala prior to the end of the Second World War (1944 until the CIA led overthrow in 1954, Malkin, 2011) and which in addition to the Cuban experiment, included Chile’s ill-fated Allende government, Nicaragua’s Sandinista experiments, current governments in Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay. But the Bolivarian experiment was most specifically aligned with an expansion of the authoritarian Cuban Revolution of the late 1950’s, an experiment impossible to evaluate given the distortive economic effect of the more than fifty year old United States led economic embargo and the constant stream of related threats and propaganda (Becker, 2017). Unlike the autocratic variant somehow surviving in Cuba however, the autocratic, non-democratic element was minimized and what evolved was a form of democratic socialism frequently referred to in Venezuela and among supporters of its Bolivarian concepts as “Twenty-First Century Socialism”, Spronk, 2010. It is in some ways akin to the form of democratic socialism which has evolved since the Second World War in the Nordic countries but planted in a much more hostile environment. Democratic socialism has also impacted regional powers Brazil and Argentina but in both of those states it has for now been effectively thwarted through a combination of foreign and domestic economic manipulation and illegal investment of foreign funds in local elections, something very much akin to what the United States mainstream media, its intelligence community and both major political parties accuse others of having done in the United States, most notably Russia, during the 2016 presidential elections. The same is true of Honduras and Paraguay, now firmly in the neoliberal stable. (Wright, 2013)
The Latin American social democratic movement has proven very successful with respect to minimization of poverty and improvement of healthcare and education but has faced serious obstacles economically as a result of effective economic blockades by domestic and international traditional power centers, specifically designed to cause serious supply and pricing crises among the domestic population (Petras, 2013); not as blatantly as the economic warfare waged by the United States against Cuba but still in a setting providing the former once-and-future (they hope) Venezuelan oligarchs (they consider themselves aristocrats) with a great deal of room to maneuver because Latin American democratic socialism seeks to coexist with free enterprise in a libertarian and democratic framework.
It’s important to emphasize that Venezuela is not fully socialist, but has a “mixed” economy, with the private sector involved in many crucial sectors such as food distribution, pharmaceuticals, consumer product importation and sales, and the media. John Pilger has described Venezuela as a “reformist social democracy with a capitalist base” — a description that helps us understand what is happening there. (Nelson, 2017)
Given that operating space, the former masters, neoliberal internationalists to the core, took advantage of tactics developed in numerous other countries by fellow neoliberals faced with populist challenges and significantly improved them. All it took was careful management and coordination of the resources they’d accumulated during centuries of political and economic domination, “de-investing” in the future (reverse priming the pump if you will) by selectively taking essential goods and services off the market in a manner generating shortages and increasing prices (visualize screws twisting) and waiting for millions and millions of voices to scream uncle, to plead for forgiveness and for a return to the good old days, like obedient slaves should. Of course economic manipulation was not the only tool in the neoliberal arsenal in Venezuela, the mass media was wholly owned, as were many members of the judiciary, posts that in many cases had been handed down from fathers to sons and sometimes daughters for generations. These were also immediately bought into play magnifying the visibility and consequences of the foregoing.
On the other hand, not being totally innovative, such tactics had been anticipated by leftist Latin American academics some of whom postulated innovative countermeasures. Despite traditional political theories involving the importance of independent judiciaries and an independent and protected mass media, historical analysis, both in the region and elsewhere clearly demonstrated that the “independence” aspect was a fallacy, such institutions almost always being firmly under the control of neoliberal oligarchs and used to undermine populist tendencies they might not otherwise be able to control. Indeed, pre-twenty first century constitutions appeared to have been designed to limit rather than promote democratic tendencies. Such realization had led to the evolution of a novel constitutional concept now commonly denominated “New Latin American Constitutionalism” (see generally Couso, 2014) as a result of which the “balance of power theory” credited to Montesquieu as a means of protecting liberty from democracy was thoroughly reevaluated as the protected “liberty” had all too frequently applied only to the traditional feudal oligarchs. The theory of separation of powers, which deals with allocation of governmental power and functions rather than with democracy and has been most prevalent in presidential forms of government, was “constitutionally modified by making the democratically elected branches dominant and democracy, rather than balance of power, the predominant theme. The concept involved a realpolitik approach to constitutional analysis recognizing that the evolution of constitutional mechanics had theretofore in large part involved efforts to minimize rather than promote popular participation in governance and to concentrate power in the hands of small groups of very wealthy families and individuals. To do so, political parties and the media were used as filtering mechanisms drastically limiting electoral options and the mass media as a mechanism to mold public opinion and pacify the populace, or if necessary, alarm the populace, in order to attain the goals of those who owned the media and who, through political “contributions (some would call them bribes), controlled the major political parties. The role of money in controlling electoral processes had become especially effective when limitations on its use to buy elections were rendered meaningless through abuse of judicial power.
The Neoliberal Oligarchs React in Venezuela
The reaction to the New Latin American Constitutionalism first implemented by President Hugo Chavez in Venezuela after he’d been elected under the preexisting neoliberal constitution was immediate and without holds barred. In 2002, with the assistance of the United States, a coup briefly (very briefly) overthrew his government but was almost immediately repulsed by a popular reaction that surprised coup organizers used to United States interventionist successes all over the world (see Shahtahmasebi, 2016). The coup had been preceded by the strategy of economic destabilization implemented by the country’s economic elites and their international allies who withheld essential products under their control artificially generating scarcity and drastically increasing prices as a means of depriving the democratically elected government of popular support while simultaneously engaging in provocative staged protests dutifully covered by their mass media and in orchestrated judicial action in “friendly tribunals. The hope, of course, was to incite governmental overreaction that would justify the proposed coup (preferable) or international intervention ranging from economic sanctions to military intrusion. Those tactics were not deterred by the coup’s failure but rather massively reinforced (Nelson, 2017), especially since the death of the popular Chavez and his replacement by Nicholas Maduro, a former bus driver who evolved into an important political functionary in the Bolivarian movement and was personally designated by Chavez as his successor.
Maduro, lacking both Chavez’s charisma and any recognizable management skills that might have overcome such deficiency (attributes also in short supply with respect to Chavez), permitted his government to be manipulated into modifying the original democratic socialist revolutionary program implemented by Chaves (a Cuba-lite system democratically implemented and supported by huge petroleum reserves and the absence of an international economic boycott), by catering to investors and debt holders after petroleum prices experienced dramatic (and probably manipulated) declines (Nelson, 2017), forcing the government to leverage future earnings by current borrowing in the expectation that such declines would be temporary. As the petroleum price crisis drew on, complementing domestic manipulation of essential product supplies by the government’s opponents, the Maduro government was forced to decide to either default of its foreign debt obligations or to reduce government support for the poor. Exactly the lose-lose situation artfully crafted and executed by the opposition, a trap into which Maduro fell head first by electing to honor Venezuela’s debt related obligations. Approximately 60 billion dollars were withdrawn from popular subsidies to pay foreign lenders and investors at a time when economic manipulation by the opposition was being accelerated, throwing the poor into insolvable economic turmoil. Then, posing as the “shocked” protectors of the economically devastated people of Venezuela (the victims now including not only the poor but the middle and technocratic classes as well) in a fashion dramatized both domestically and internationally by the wholly owned private media, massive public disobedience and protest campaigns (almost exclusively “staged’ in wealthy and upper middle class neighborhoods in major cities) whose goal was to further destabilize the economy were launched on a continuous basis, the situation one finds in Venezuela today (see Weisbrot, 2014).
In addition to exacerbating the economic crisis, the protests were designed to induce government overreaction, or at least the media orchestrated perception of overreaction. Again, the Maduro government faced a lose-lose situation and apparently lost, at least until some of its advisors reviewed the Venezuelan Constitution and found that under Articles 348 and 349, the government had access to a very powerful tool.
Counterattack by the Maduro Government, Check or Checkmate, for Whom?
As a result of legislative elections during 2015, the opposition had assumed control of the National Assembly during early January of 2016 (Dreier, 2016) and had immediately sought to not only dismantle Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution, but to also replace Maduro as president. However, the Bolivarian constitution, reflecting New Latin American Constitutionalist theory, provided the executive with the means to thwart such attempts, especially given the fact that having controlled all branches of government during the preceding seventeen years, followers of Hugo Chavez firmly controlled all other government institutions and especially the Supreme Court. Initially, the Maduro government sought to minimize the National Assembly through judicial action, especially the aborted attempt by the Supreme Court to suspend the National Assembly, but predictably such efforts proved extremely counterproductive giving the opposition, suddenly embracing the Bolivarian constitution they had vilified for so long, the propaganda ammunition it sought to portray Maduro as either a dictator or a would be dictator. But the Maduro government finally settled on the constitutional solution envisioned for just such situations, the Bolivarian Constitution’s version of the nuclear option, the provisions of Articles 348 and 349 which provided the president with the unchecked authority to convene a Constituent Assembly which, during its tenure, would be the supreme governing authority (Wight, 2017). The neoliberal opposition then repeated its strategic 2005 blunder by boycotting the elections to the Constituent Assembly resulting in an almost total pro-Maduro majority (Nelson, 2017; for the dangers of electoral boycott strategies, see Weeks, 2013).
Neoliberal World Order to the Rescue?
As hoped for by the opposition, the international neoliberal order has, notwithstanding the clarity of Articles 348 and 349 of Venezuela’s Bolivarian Constitution, mounted a vociferous albeit illogical campaign to delegitimize the Constituent Assembly, demanding instead extra-constitutional new elections under neoliberal auspices. Article 21 of the OAS’s Democratic Charter has been alluded to as a means of justifying international intervention notwithstanding the reality that it applies to the “unconstitutional interruption of the democratic order of a member state”. A constitutionally convened constituent assembly would seem to be the antithesis of what OAS Article 21 was designed to deal with. The campaign is ironically led by the United States, now in the throes of metaphorical convulsions over allegations that Russia somehow “meddled” in United States presidential politics during 2016 by somehow participating in the dissemination of “accurate” information which demonstrated Democratic Party electoral improprieties in favor of establish choice Hillary Clinton. Evidently, “meddling” is a relative concept, like time, flowing in only one direction.
The latest news is that the Trump administration, goaded on in a bipartisan fashion until he indicated he might follow bipartisan neoconservative wishes (disguised as concern for human rights), is considering unilateral action in Venezuela to “restore democracy”. Hollow echoes reverberate asking: “and what about the Saudis, and the Israelis, and the Emirs, and so on, and so on, and so on”. The response is sharp, crisp and to the point: “Do as we say!!! Not as we (and our friends) do!!!” Paraphrasing Barry Goldwater’s 1964 slogan: “Hypocrisy in the defense of our quest for economic, political and military hegemony is no vice; reticence due to respect for international law, no virtue.
So, … in the still “Bolivarian” Republic of Venezuela, … at least for today, as it debates a new constitution power is being exercised by the newly elected Constituent Assembly which is purging anti-Madura government personnel and superseding the National Assembly as a functioning governmental institution, while the opposition mounts increasingly furious protests (albeit for the most part limited to the wealthiest enclaves). The protests are massively publicized in the still functioning elitist media and the economic strangulation tactics of the opposition continue to make the lives of most Venezuelans unbearable. Hopefully, in the view of the opposition, so unbearable that the people will gladly embrace the chains that formerly bound them to a quasi-feudal oligarchy which senses that its imminent return to power is assured if it only continues its current tactics, and continues to enjoy the logistical, economic and diplomatic support of its foreign allies (Melimopoulos, 2017).
The region is predictably divided into two camps, the independent states which cautiously support non-intervention in Venezuelan internal affairs (Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Antigua, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize, Dominica, Granada, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and the “how high should we jump” United States protectorates which insist that the Maduro government yield to opposition demands and, notwithstanding the constitutionality of the new Constituent Assembly, yield power to the National Assembly. On the sidelines, President Trump (Nelson, 2017) takes a few minutes of time out from bellowing (in Tweetish fashion) at Kim Jong Un (we will destroy you and your people too) and at GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell (lead or quit), to demand of Nicolas Maduro that he yield (or we’ll make you yield, in the name of international law, democracy, liberty and apple pie).
Of course, notwithstanding the manipulation of information by Venezuelan and international media, Venezuela is not limited to choices between the Maduro government and the neoliberal, oligarchic opposition. Surprisingly, there is a growing movement to Maduro’s political left led by disenchanted Chavistas and leftist academicians which insist on adherence to the Bolivarian revolution’s original democratic socialist goals, both politically and economically (see, e.g., de Souza, 2017). It is probably the group best equipped intellectually and morally to lead the country but with the least likely prospect of doing so, The movement founded by Hugo Chavez has fragmented into a governing bloc in survival mode, doing what it can to hang on to power by whatever means possible, and the little referenced leftist opposition insisting that democratic principles and Bolivarian economic priorities favoring the people, especially the poor, over investors, be reestablished and respected (Carcione, 2017). Carlos Carcione, a leading member of the socialist organization Marea Socialista which has broken with the governing coalition of leftist parties and movements, is a vocal critic of both Maduro and the opposition, as well as of leftist movements worldwide that fail to criticize Maduro’s increasingly non-democratic actions both with respect to repression of the opposition and decisions that favor creditors and investors over the traditional Bolivarian base, the poor.
Venezuela is in crisis but there are solutions, only they’re so well hidden by both the government and the opposition (and even more so by the media) that the likelihood of their prevailing is as likely as, … well, … the elimination of political and economic corruption everywhere, or Santa Clause bringing me that Maserati I’d like, or Elvis really being alive, or the Jets winning another Super Bowl.
Not a happy thought.
Especially for Venezuelans.
On the morning that I started to write this “essay — article” (August 10, 2017) I discussed some of these matters as well as their impact on neighboring Colombia in a radio interview with UNRadio Bogota. My observations were that:
· For Colombia, the situation in Venezuela, regardless of which group is worse (“better” is not an adjective that can be applied to either the Maduro government or the opposition), the situation is all too similar to that currently faced by China with respect to North Korea. Disaster in Venezuela will have disturbing, tsunami-sized echoes in Colombia which, given the financial obligations assumed with respect to its recent peace process, is not in an economic position to accept a large flow of Venezuelan refugees. Colombia, while also a bastion of neoliberal elites closely aligned to the neoliberal order led by the United States is cautiously exploring its own domestic options in its own increasingly polarized civil society and is not currently in a socio-psychological position to deal with calamities in the neighborhood, although the issue will be important as presidential elections loom in 2018 (see Boccara, 2016, Agencia Eje, 2017).
· Having successfully overturned or deflected democratic socialist governments in Honduras, Paraguay, Argentina and Brazil, either through coups, soft coups or electoral machinations, the international neoliberal community is more prepared than ever to provide their allies (or puppets) in Venezuela with all the support they can muster to do the same. The economic prize in Venezuela seems greater and easier to prune than in neighboring Brazil, although the resiliency of the otherwise inept Maduro regime has been surprising. And President Trump, a wild card, is deliberately unpredictable.
· The opposition in Venezuela is corrupt and interested only in reacquiring power for the benefit of the very few by whatever means prove necessary and never relinquishing it again while the Maduro government is corrupt and inept, having surrendered its democratic socialist ideals to the investor and creditor classes that will never support it anyway. It too seems dedicated to retaining power by whatever means prove necessary (Observer Editorial, 2017).
· The most honest and viable force for attaining the public welfare in Venezuela is probably the leftist group that abandoned Maduro (Carcione, 2017) demanding both real democracy, real liberty, and a real dedication to popular welfare, equity, justice and equality, but that like everywhere else, its access to power is virtually impossible.
· And finally, that Venezuela’s future is desperately bleak, regardless of the outcome of the current battle for political power, as is the case in too much of the world today (Melimopoulos, 2017).
If we can’t really do very much about it, it still behooves us to do all we can to discover and endeavor to understand the truth, the essential starting point for solutions to any problem, anywhere. Not all that easy given the fact that journalism has morphed into propaganda “virtually” everywhere. But where there’s life there’s hope.
Or so the ubiquitous “they” say.
Agencia Efe (2017). “La crisis venezolana se cuela en la campaña presidencial colombiana”; El Espectador, August 12, 2017–12:12 pm, available at http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/politica/la-crisis-venezolana-se-cuela-en-la-campana-presidencial-colombiana-articulo-707748?utm_source=Atrapium_Gi33&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Newsletter+El+Espectador+2017-08-13.
Becker, Marc (2017). “Latin America: A Conservative Restoration?”: May-June 2017, Against the Current, 188 available at https://www.solidarity-us.org/node/4973.
Boccara, Bruno (2016). “Colombia: The year of splitting dangerously”; LinkedIn, October 23, 2016, available at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/colombia-year-splitting-dangerously-bruno-boccara?trk=mp-reader-card.
Carcione, Carlos (interview (2017). “How should the left respond in Venezuela?” Socialist Worker, August 9, 2017, available at https://socialistworker.org/2017/08/09/how-should-the-left-respond-in-venezuela.
Couso, Javier (2014). “Radical Democracy and the ‘New Latin American Constitutionalism’”; Seminario de Teroia Politica y Constitucional en Latinoamerica. Yale University, available at https://law.yale.edu/system/files/documents/pdf/sela/SELA13_Couso_CV_Eng_20130516.pdf.
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Dreier, Hannah and Joshua Goodman (2016). “Venezuela opposition controls congress after 17 years”; San Diego Union Tribune, January 4, 2016, 09:00, available at http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/sdut-showdown-brews-as-venezuela-opposition-takes-over-2016jan04-story.html.
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Malkin, Elisabeth (2011). “An Apology for a Guatemalan Coup, 57 Years Later”; New York Times, October 20, 2011, available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/21/world/americas/an-apology-for-a-guatemalan-coup-57-years-later.html.
Melimopoulos, Elizabeth (2017). “Venezuela crisis: What’s next?” Al Jazeera, August 6, 2017, available at http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/08/venezuela-crisis-elections-170804125008730.html.
Nelson, Joyce (2017). “Venezuela: Target of Economic Warfare”; Counterpunch, Venezuela: Target of Economic Warfare available at https://www.counterpunch.org/2017/08/11/venezuela-target-of-economic-warfare/.
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Shahtahmasebi, Darius (2016). “The CIA Has Been Undermining Governments for Years”; Newsweek, December 15, 2016, available at http://www.newsweek.com/cia-has-been-undermining-governments-years-531609.
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Wright, John (2013). “Venezuela, South America, and the return of the oligarchs”; RT 16 May, 2016 14:55 available at https://www.rt.com/op-edge/343201-venezuela-south-america-oligarchs/.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.
Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.
 As it does today, Venezuela’s natural resources (it has the largest oil reserve, the second largest gas reserve, and the largest freshwater reserve, gold and coltan in the world) provided the basis for the generation of immense wealth. The question was, is and will be, for whose benefit.
 As Caleb T. Maupin wrote for Mint Press News last year (July 12, 2016), “It’s odd that the mainstream press blames ‘socialism’ for the food problems in Venezuela, when the food distributors remain in the hands of private corporations,” who are “running general sabotage” of the system. (Nelson, 2017).
 The phenomena was not limited to Latin America but rather, was and is omnipresent in neoliberal political systems, especially in systems modelled on the United States; indeed, the United States Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision (see Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 310 ; Dunbare, 2012, 2016) made money equivalent to protected political speech facilitating the complete takeover of United States electoral politics by financial elites.
 Probably a very unfortunate choice. Some have half-jokingly suggested that Chavez selected Maduro not to perpetuate his Bolivarian revolution but rather, to comparatively polish his image.
 Many believe that petroleum prices are all too regularly manipulated through financial intermediation but in this instance, a planned dumping strategy was implemented by the United States and its Saudi ally primarily in order to damage the Russian, Syrian, Iranian and Venezuelan economies while to some extent boosting the United States economy (Topf, 2014). The strategy has proven very successful with respect to Venezuela. Unfortunately for many others, including major US allies such as the Republic of Colombia, it has caused significant economic disruption there as well. It has also caused very serious environmental damage as it has been largely “fueled” through the extraction of shale oil by “fracking”.
 The strategy is familiar to those cognizant of the sophisticated tactics used by short sellers by tricking the owners of the items sold short into excessive use of leverage to protect their assets, part of the smoke and mirrors world of wealth creation through Financialization (Hudson, 2010).
 The Article was designed to deal with events like the 2009 military coup in Honduras that Washington helped to legitimize, or the 2002 military coup in Venezuela, aided even more by the US government, not to actions, whether well or ill advised, such as currently exist in Venezuela (see Weisbrot, 2014).