This blog post
by Peter Ludlow gives a jaw-dropping summary of the events leading to the present crisis in Venezuela. Maduro, who describes himself as a socialist and is defended by some on the left, is following a fascist playbook installing himself as an absolute dictator. He stacked the supreme court with cronies who disbanded the congress, and declared Maduro as the sole legislative authority. To supply constitutional rationalization for this, Maduro's court also declared that he, himself, is the embodiment of the people.
Ludlow's post is partly a response to left-leaning commenters who instinctively defend Maduro. They see him as a legitimate socialist leader with broad public support. But Ludlow shows that this image is just clumsily engineered propaganda, as thin as the air. My thoughts are that there are non-trivial similarities to Mussolini and the Italian Fascist movement. Mussolini started out as a Marxist Socialist. The Fascist platform was largely a list of progressive points. The constituent organizations were mostly left-wing, at least in the early days. At some point the Fascists took a hard turn to the far right; even still, Mussolini declared the end of capitalism and continued to present Fascism as an evolved product of socialist thought.
But back to Maduro. A few highlights:
At this point, there are two legislative bodies - the Team Maduro Constituent Assembly, which was put in place
after an election that may or may not have been constitutionally called and which in any case did not allow leading opposition parties to participate and the integrity of which was otherwise disputed by the voting machine company, and (on the other hand) the Team Opposition Congress, which had in fact been legally elected in an undisputed election, but then dissolved by ... by a Court. Which leads me to the other thing: there are also two Supreme Courts. One, the Team Maduro Court, was appointed by a lame duck congress in a matter declared procedurally flawed by the Maduro appointed and then reappointed Attorney General (now in exile), and on the other hand the Team Opposition Court, which was appointed by the Congress that was elected in the election of 2015, following established procedures. So, summing up, there are two legislatures (Team Maduro Legislature and Team Opposition Legislature) and two courts (same two teams). I think I forgot to mention that Maduro began to jail the opposition court judges, but most of them escaped and are now operating in exile (as is the aforementioned opposition leader Borges). I should be add that the Team Opposition Court and Legislature, whether the legitimate court and legislature of Venezuela or not, are operating in exile.
I don't know how much ordinary Venezuelans care about the above machinations; but I do know that they care about the economy, and trust me it has not escaped their attention that the stores are empty and there is no work and at this point there is a hyperinflation rate of around sixty thousand per cent annually (not hyperbole, fact, and I'm not relying on Forbes here, I actually follow black market exchange rates - sick hobby, I know). Why any serious person could think that the people of Venezuela support the current government under such circumstances is beyond me. It would attribute to the people extreme indifference to their well-being and the well-being of their friends and family. What I'm saying is that Leftists should stop posting memes that claim Maduro was elected in an honest election with 68% support. It's insulting to the victims of Maduro.
Now, I don't mean to suggest that the economic woes of Venezuela are entirely Maduro's fault. He could not control the cratering of the market in crude oil, which damaged state income. But, let's face it, the rest of the world had to face the same cratering oil market. And it is entirely on Maduro that he kept printing money and hyperinflated the economy. No one made him do that. For that matter, no one made him stop investing in his oil industry, causing it to have its lowest output in 30 years. Nor did anyone force him to replace competent people with cronies and to allow corruption and theft rise to a level that the oil infrastructure is being stripped clean by criminals (we will get to the crime business in a bit).
You might be thinking, well, isn't some of this on the United States because of its sanctions? The Mint Press, for example, has claimed in a headline that the sanctions are "largely responsible" for the crisis and cites an interview with former UN official Alfred de Zayas that they might be a "crime against humanity." This is just utter bullshit. Under Obama, the sanctions were targeted against precisely seven members of the Venezuelan government (or its Team Maduro government), of which six were members of the Security Forces and one was a prosecutor. What the sanctions do is freeze the US assets of those people and prevent them from acquiring US visas -not so different from what Maduro did to Guaido and Attorney General Luisa Ortega.
...and criminal gangs operating like a wing of the state:
Corrupt government officials on the take of narcos are not especially rare. Where I live, in Mexico, it has been a persistent problem. (You may recall that in the El Chapo trial a witness claimed that a 100 million dollar bribe had been paid to previous Mexican President, Pena Nieto.) But if you follow the blogs like Borderland Beat and InSight Crime that follow the narco trade, as I do, then you will find a kind of consensus that the Maduro government has evolved into a full-blown narco state. And yeah, I know, InSight Crime is funded in part by Soros, but they do a good job on covering the narco business in Mexico and Colombia and I see no reason why they would fail to do so in Venezuela.
Before we get to direct corruption, it is worth remarking on a form of corruption-by-neglect that Venezuela struggles with. The gist of the problem is that numerous security duties have been "farmed out" to criminal gangs, with the result that parts of Venezuelan territory have been and probably still are under the control of nongovernmental gangs.
Under Maduro, the government began implementing a hands-off policy regarding organized crime, ceding control of municipalities and districts to criminal gangs (the aforementioned "collectivos") in high crime areas that, in an Orwellian instant classic, were labelled "peace zones" (zonas de paz). Recall that Miguel Torres was removed from office after taking lethal police action against said gangs. Under the subsequent direction of Jose Vicente Rangel Avalos, who is now the mayor of Sucre,
the government established an understanding with the gangs that its security would not enter those territories without permission of the gang.
For any government on Earth this would count as a dereliction of duty, but for a supposedly Marxist state like Venezuela it is treasonous. Over the past 100 years, Marxist states have made lots of mistakes, but one thing they have been good at is stamping out organized crime within their borders. Frankly, they have to be good at it. If you are subsidizing gasoline (by some accounts Venezuelans pay 5 cents/gallon) and food prices (as Venezuela does) then you absolutely do not want criminal elements taking those subsidized goods and reselling them on the black market or in neighboring countries (there is even a word for this practice in Venezuela: "bachaqueo"). In such a case you are simply handing wads of cash to criminals while your grocery stores and gas stations become empty. But Venezuela enabled precisely those conditions, in particular by ceding control of its border areas to criminal gangs.
The details here are pretty robust, with specific neighborhoods and districts identified as "peace zones." In the area surrounding Caracas, the gang-controlled peace zones were Cota 095, El Cemeterio, and El Valle. In the border state of Zulia the peace zones include the municipalities of Jesus Enrique Lossada, Rosario de Perija, and Catatumbo (all of which rest on the Colombian border). Several municipalities in the border state of Tachira were also declared peace zones and under criminal control.
As I said earlier, there are dangers to turning over areas of your country to criminal gangs, but turning over border areas is particularly problematic because it enables the smuggling of all subsidized goods into Colombia where they can earn a hefty premium over the subsidized price. Great news for Colombians and smugglers; not so great for the people in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. And in point of fact, the smuggling did not take the form of your mom selling her gallon of cooking oil and flour to a local criminal. The rip-off took place at the wholesale level, meaning that material was moving into Colombia in bulk without ever seeing the shelves in Venezuela.
It goes on and on like this. Quite a read.