Venezuela’s current political crisis has drawn much attention worldwide. The shortages, increasing violence, skyrocketing inflation, and the increasing militarization of its economy are all fixtures of Venezuela’s current national disaster. Opposition movements have naturally arisen in response to Venezuela’s squalid state, with the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) leading the charge against the current ruling class. Despite the unprecedented awareness of Venezuela’s delicate situation, considerable amounts of disinformation abound both in mainstream media and social media coverage of these events. This article seeks to dispel many of these myths and misconceptions that concern Venezuela and its political opposition.
- The Venezuelan Opposition is Attempting a Coup Against the Current Government
To carry out a coup, opposition forces must at least possess a high degree of political clout, military resources, and firepower. It could be argued that current president Nicolás Maduro, who does not possess the same type of charisma and popularity as his predecessor Hugo Chávez, is leading a government that, in theory, should be more susceptible to potential coup attempts.
However, the current political landscape in Venezuela paints a different picture. Nicolás Maduro’s regime still completely controls the state apparatus and its economic resources. Additionally, it controls repressive elements such as “colectivos” or collectives which are paramilitary bands of individual whose official mission consists of “defending the revolution” and terrorizing those who oppose them.
It also does not help that the civilian populace has been effectively disarmed since 2012, consequently leaving many opposition figures at the mercy of government repression and criminal violence. The Venezuelan state’s repressive apparatus was built by Hugo Chávez and has continued in full effect under Nicolás Maduro. The opposition may have numbers, but they are strangled economically speaking and have been left completely defenseless in the face of growing government repression.
In the same vein, the opposition does not have much influence over the armed forces, which have been completely co-opted by Hugo Chávez´s revolutionary fervor and are devoted to preserving the “Bolivarian Revolution” at all costs. Rumors abound that these very military forces are operating under the auspices of Cuban intelligence networks.
If a potential insurrection is to occur, it is more likely that certain factions of Chavismo clash with each other than the opposition actually mounting a rebellion that deposes Maduro. It is an open secret that the two wings of Chavismo– the civic and military wings– do not see eye to eye with each other. With growing degrees of social unrest and distrust in Maduro’s ability to keep the country in line, a scenario in which an internal faction of Chavismo rises up in an attempt to restore some semblance of order is plausible. Nevertheless, these scenarios are still confined to the realm of speculation.
- The Venezuelan Opposition is Made Up of Far Right Parties
In Venezuela, there is no political entity that resembles a far-right party, except in the government’s rhetoric and imagination, where it considers any form of dissent to be “Fascist” or “Right-Wing Extremism”. In fact, there are no right wing parties, or even center-right parties, for that matter, that are politically relevant in present-day Venezuela. Venezuela has historically been a leftist country, with a social democratic touch, for the past 50 years. During the years of representative democracy from 1958 to 1998, the political map in Venezuela was divided between Social Democrats and Christian Democrats.
Both parties were part of a pacted bipartisan consensus that established a strong state presence in the economy and in many ways contributed to the Venezuela’s gradual economic decline from 1958 to 1998.
Many of the interventionist policies and the accompanying blunders that came with them were only exacerbated by Chávez when he came into power after 1998. Chávez just took these policies to their logical conclusion–hard socialism.
Today the opposition is a veritable hodgepodge of leftist parties. To mention a few:
- Red Flag Party: A Marxist-Leninist party which strives to establish “popular democracy”.
- Democratic Action (AD): The most dominant party in Venezuela’s Fourth Republic (1958-1998) who are characterized by their social democratic policies.
- COPEI: The Democratic Christians who were rivals to AD throughout Venezuela’s Fourth Republic. They were a centrist alternative to AD, but still believed in a strong state presence in the overall economy.
- Justice First: The heirs to COPEI. Their leader, Henrique Capriles Redonski, ran for the presidency in 2012 and 2013 as the opposition leader to the Chavista regime.
- Movement Toward Socialism (MAS): MAS would distance itself from Marxist revolutionary groups in the 1970s and brand itself as a more social democratic alternative to revolutionary Marxism. Instead of taking arms, MAS would use electoral means to achieve socialism. When Hugo Chávez came into power in 1998, a schism emerged between the democratic and Marxist wings of the party. MAS is now firmly on the opposition side of the aisle.
- Voluntad Popular (Popular Will): The party of the recently imprisoned political leader Leopoldo López. López has been one of the most outspoken critics of the Chavista regime, and up until his imprisonment, was arguably the most prominent opposition leader in Venezuela. Popular Will is a member of the Socialist International, and its platform is centered around progressive ideology and policies.
The sole exception to this leftist dominance in the Venezuelan opposition is María Corina Machado and her political organization Vente Venezuela.
While centrist in nature, Vente Venezuela is one of the few organizations that has proposed any semblance of a market-based order among the opposition parties. However, Vente has yet to emerge as a political needle mover in Venezuela.
Classical liberal or libertarian-leaning organizations are virtually non-existent in Venezuela with the exception of the Center of the Diffusion of Economic Knowledge (CEDICE), a free-market think tank. The harsh reality is that CEDICE represents a minuscule portion of the entire population and is confined to small discussion groups. One of the leading intellectuals that CEDICE champions, Carlos Rangel, passed away nearly 30 years ago and has more renown abroad than in his homeland of Venezuela.
At the end of the day, Venezuela is a leftist country through and through. The only differences between the majority of the opposition and the establishment are the degrees of interventionism and the means–authoritarian or democratic–that they intend to use to achieve their socialist vision.
- The Opposition Has Engaged in Economic Destabilization
Government propaganda in Venezuela typically blames the opposition for the country’s rampant shortages. According to the political establishment, businessmen are allegedly colluding with each other to hoard goods from the public, thus creating widespread shortages across the country. However, this explanation for Venezuela’s shortages could not be further from the truth.
For starters, the unprecedented number of expropriations along with the burdensome system of currency and price controls have generated a cataclysmic decline in the national production and provision of goods and services. There are not only shortages of basic food items, but there are also shortages of all sorts of goods such as toilet paper, cars, milk, sugar, medicines, and airline tickets.
Whatever goods or services are available, they end up being out of the reach of the average Venezuelan’s pocketbook thanks to the distortions caused by the economic controls and astronomical rates of inflation. Even the flour that is used to make Venezuela’s staple food–the arepa (corncake)–is increasingly difficult to find in the country thanks to the aforementioned exchange and price controls. The shortage of the arepa is so stark that Venezuelans these days can find them more readily available in countries such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Spain, and the United States.
The simple reason why it is easier to find Venezuelan arepas more easily abroad is that the majority of arepas are now made in Colombia. Many businesses dedicated to the production of arepas have been compelled to shift their operations to Colombia and abroad largely due to institutional uncertainty that characterizes present-day Venezuela. The case of the arepa is a microcosm of Venezuela’s overall economic plight. The arbitrary expropriations, back-breaking regulations, and harassment by the Venezuelan government have forced many Venezuelan companies to take their operations abroad just to stay afloat.
To make sense of what is going on in Venezuela one must avoid falling for international leftist talking points insinuating that Venezuela’s economic and political crisis is the result of right-wing conspiracies throughout the country that seek to completely destabilize the country. At the same time, caution should be exercised when categorizing the Venezuelan opposition as right-wing or market-oriented. To the contrary, Venezuela is a country that has experimented with varying degrees of leftist governments for the past 50 years.
Although Venezuela was under democratic rule during the Fourth Republic, the many economic interventionist policies implemented during this timeframe not only gradually made it poorer as a nation, but also undermined many of its political institutions. These historical developments are key to understanding why the Venezuelan opposition has not been able to topple the current political establishment.
The public policy package that the opposition offers is just not enough to mobilize people effectively. In contrast, the experience of the Baltic Tigers (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and other Eastern European countries such as Poland demonstrate how an opposition that is willing and able to implement comprehensive market reforms is key to toppling socialist regimes.
Ultimately, having an opposition that champions free-market principles is a necessary ingredient to rally those that have been priced out and oppressed by totalitarian socialist regimes. If Venezuela wants to undo the damage that Chavez’s authoritarian socialism has wrought, its opposition must offer a distinct free-market vision based on the rule of law and entrepreneurial initiative. For the country’s short-term and long-term political well-being, it must break away from all forms of socialism–be it the harder or lighter variants–and embrace free markets.