Any politically active individual in the United States advocating for Socialism has likely heard the argument “what about Venezuela?.” In 1998, Venezuela elected President Hugo Chavez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, and are currently led by President Nicolàs Maduro of the same party. Beginning around 2012 Venezuela began experiencing economic slowdowns which have worsened since that time. The country is currently experiencing what Economists refer to as stagflation, meaning high inflation combined with high unemployment. Reports now show the Venezuelan citizenry are experiencing food and medical shortages creating a humanitarian crisis in the country.
In 2018, the Organization of American States (OAS) concluded that the Venezuelan elections were fraudulent, and had been illegally influenced by Maduro in order to maintain his position as President. These elections were used as justification for The United States, Britain, German, France, and many other Western powers to support a 2019 coup attempting to install Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as President. The coup failed, however, and Maduro remains in power. Despite the failed attempt, the aforementioned Western countries, as well as some right wing Latin American Governments, such as Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil, now recognize Guaido as the rightful President of Venezuela.
The vast majority of Western Media have concluded that Maduro and his socialist policies are to blame for Venezuela’s Political and Economic turmoil. Corporately owned Western outlets, such as the Washington Post, blame nationalization of industry and irresponsible government spending for Venezuela’s economic collapse. This narrative often fails to include any information about the economic sanctions imposed on Venezuela or their effect on the Venezuelan citizenry. These sanctions, which began under Bush in 2005, have only increased under both the Obama and Trump administrations; the Congressional Research Service reports 144 different sanctions imposed by the United States on Venezuela(FAS). The timing of these sanctions seems to coincide with the Venezuelan economic slowdowns that have led to the current humanitarian crisis.
To understand what is happening in Venezuela it is essential to consider the impacts of both the US sanctions as well as mistakes made by the Socialist Party. This essay will attempt to answer the seemingly simple question “What about Venezuela?”. Looking at all factors involved including sanctions, CIA intervention, and Venezuelan Government policies. This essay will also analyze the hegemonic Western media narrative about Venezuela and the financial motivations which exist for the media to encourage regime change in the country.
Since 1912, Venezuela has been an economy based on exporting oil. To this day, the entire economy and standard of living for people in Venezuela is dependent on how the oil industry is being managed. The vast amounts of oil underneath the country was a metaphorical gold mine for Royal Dutch Shell, and Rockefeller Standard Oil in the early 1900’s. In 1936, Venezuela began to take control of their oil industry while cutting out foreign companies, attempting to “Sow the Oil”. This plan aimed to take oil revenue and use it to invest in other industries and social programs, diversifying and modernizing the Venezuelan Economy. By 1976 Carlos Andres Perez fully nationalized Venezuelan oil with a goal of redistributing more of the wealth it created to workers. Although the Perez administration would take a turn towards neoliberal policy, allowing multi-national corporations to share in Venezuelan oil riches. This lead to a poverty rate of over 50% and two attempted coups by Hugo Chavez. Perez would eventually be convicted by the Venezuelan Supreme court of embezzlement. The Venezuelan economy has always been somewhat of a roller coaster. When global oil prices are up, so is the Venezuelan economy and vice versa. In 1998, Hugo Chavez was elected in Venezuela and began visiting every country, especially those membered with The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), urging them to set a quota on oil production. This quota was meant to keep production of oil low enough so that prices remained higher and more stable. Chavez’s efforts were successful as oil prices rose to their highest levels since 1985. Chavez also “renationalized” the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA which he argued was acting independently of the state, becoming its own entity which prioritized their own profit over the betterment of Venezuela. Since 1912 the Venezuelan economy has been tied to oil and has found itself in a constant struggle to keep global oil prices high, to diversify their economy, and to remove possibilities of foreign companies profiting from their oil reserves. This history is vitally important for understanding the current economic and political situation in the country.
The main flaw in the Venezuelan Economy is that it is not adequately diversified. Since the early 1900’s, the country has been completely dependent on oil which has led to multiple negative side effects. Economists have prescribed Venezuela with Dutch Disease, meaning the country’s oil industry has become disproportionately large, and other industries have suffered as a result. This Dutch Disease phenomenon was first seen in Holland in the 1970s when the country discovered oil. Essentially, as the oil market of a company becomes strong, that country’s currency is strengthened globally as a result of the new revenue. This makes it more expensive for other industries to export their goods, as the costs for goods has now increased due to the spike in oil revenue. A journal entitled Sowing the Oil states, “The discovery of oil and the conversion to a petro-economy caused an influx of foreign exchange in the country, making food imports cheaper than domestic production and a resultant massive rural exodus.” (Clark).
A main goal of Venezuelan Government since 1999 has been to combat Dutch Disease by creating food sovereignty in the country. The plan has been to use the money brought in through oil exports to create state run farms allowing more domestic food production. Overall, these policies had success lowering poverty from 49% to 26% between 2000 and 2010. Along with this, malnutrition became almost nonexistent in Venezuela, raising average calorie consumption from 91% of recommended levels to 101.6%. (Weisbrot). Additional successes include the Mission Robinson program which taught 1.5 new Venezuelans to read and write, prompting UNESCO to declare in 2005 that Venezuela had abolished illiteracy. Infant mortality in Venezuela dropped by 49% from 1999 to 2010. 700,000 new homes have been built to combat homelessness. (Lamrani).
In order to implement these policies, Chavez, and Maduro after him, needed to maintain control of the Venezuelan oil company, PDVSA. Prior to his election, Chavez felt that PDVSA was functioning as a State within the State. In order to enact the policies of food sovereignty, Chavez fired many directors of the PDVSA and strengthened state control over the oil company. This allowed for the Government to use oil profits as they see fit. This meant more focus on endogenous development, meaning the country could use the revenue from imports to increase equity and human development.
The goals of the Venezuelan government have always been at odds with those of the United States. Venezuela is run by a Socialist party which has nationalized their oil using the revenues to increase social programs and domestic food growth. The United States on the other hand, promotes capitalism and the autonomy for private entities to make decisions that are based on what is in their financial best interest. This philosophical clash has created a situation where the more the Venezuelan state gains control over their oil, the less profit there is to be made for private fossil fuel companies. Citgo is the only US Company which remains in Venezuela, and it is forced to make large payments to the Venezuelan State in order to remain. This could be the motivation behind the strong sanctions which the US has imposed on Venezuela since Chavez was elected. As Venezuelan oil sovereignty has increased so have the sanctions from the United States. The conflict between the two countries peaked in 2018 when Juan Guaido and the US backed opposition party attempted a coup on the Maduro. The United States has now escalated their position from imposing economic sanctions to outright refusing to recognize Maduro as the sitting President.
The United States Government has become closely linked to private oil companies within the country. This has led the United States to impose economic warfare on Venezuela in the form of sanctions, mostly on Venezuelan oil. In addition, the US has maximized global oil production in countries such as Saudi Arabia, which keeps private profits high and the price per barrel of oil low. This economic warfare has become more visible during the Trump administration, whose members speak openly about meeting with oil executives to kneecap the Venezuelan economy.
The sole remaining US Company in Venezuela is Citgo, which maintains refineries in both the US and Venezuela. The Citgo refineries in Venezuela are owned by the PDVSA, meaning most of their profits go to the Venezuelan Government. In 2019 Trump and former National Security Advisor, John Bolton, attempted to halt this cash flow. The Washington Post reports “The administration’s new sanctions order the company to divert its payments for Venezuelan crude into a US bank account that Maduro would be unable to access.” (Mufson). Bolton also told the post he had a “very productive meeting with three Citgo executives.”
This meeting between the US government and the oil executives is a perfect microcosm of what US economic policy has been in Venezuela. The US state and oil executives have become so closely tied that the National Security Advisor openly admits urging Citgo to divert money created by Venezuelan labor into a US bank account. While some might define this action as theft, the Post article written by Steven Mufson is clearly supportive of this new sanction. The article calls Citgo “the last remaining crown jewel of Venezuela’s failing economy.” The article later states, “only Citgo has provided cash that Maduro has used to ensure the loyalty of his supporters.” Referring to Venezuelan social programs as “payments to ensure loyalty”. Furthering the idea that Maduro is a corrupt dictator only concerned with furthering his own power. The article goes on to praise Citgo who saw economic gains after sanctions allowed them to simply take the oil revenue for themselves rather than paying it to the State where it was produced.
This reporting from one of the largest and most respected media outlets in the US has a clear bias towards private business. The article fails to explore how these new sanctions affect the Venezuelan people. Simultaneously, the author accuses the Venezuelan Government of corruption while not questioning whether it is ethical for a US secretary of foreign affairs to meet with top oil executives at a private fossil fuel company. This narrative is perpetrated by almost every news source in the country and provides a hegemonic narrative with a one sided view about the crisis in Venezuela that completely absolves the US of any blame.
The justification given for the sanctions and attempted coup in Venezuela in the narrative popular with the US media is that Maduro is an authoritarian dictator who needs be removed. The United States rejected Venezuela’s electoral process in 2018, arguing that the election was undemocratic and had been altered by Maduro. Maduro received 68% of the vote in 2018, US media reported low voter turnout and irregularities in the voting schedule as evidence that the elections were fraudulent. Many academics have questioned the claims of illegitimate elections as Venezuela is known for their clean and fair elections.
A report on the 2018 Venezuelan elections and subsequent media coverage said “The supposed dictatorial Venezuelan Government pleaded with the UN to send as many observers as possible. Elections in Venezuela are already probably the most heavily monitored around the world. Successive reports from hostile sources such as the European Union and Carter Center have strongly praised the election system” (McLeod). The organization CEELA comprised of Latin American election officials, many from countries hostile to Venezuela, praised the 2018 elections for their scrutiny. CEELA President Nicanor Moscoso said “We can emphasize that these elections must be recognized because they are the result of the will of the Venezuelan people.” Despite these reports, the US and many other countries refuse to recognize Maduro as President.
Another reason given for the need to overthrow Maduro is that he has cracked down on any dissent in Venezuela, even torturing those who dare to oppose the Venezuelan Government. The organization “Human Rights Watch” has been one of the main perpetrators of this narrative. In 2017 they published a report entitled Crackdown on Dissent. Brutality, Torture, and Political Persecution in Venezuela. In this article, Human Rights Watch reports between April and September of 2018. “88 cases involving at least 314 people who were victims of serious human rights violations” (Vivanco). It is unclear how Human Rights Watch received this information. However, what is known is the organization wants increased international pressure on Venezuela. The article concludes with a ‘recommendation’ paragraph which reads “To ensure accountability for and deter the repetition of human rights abuses documented in this report, it is critically important to redouble international pressure on the Venezuelan Government.”
Human Rights Watch is heavily funded by billionaire Capitalist George Soros who in 2010 pledged to give $100 million to the organization over 10 years (Pilkington). Along with this pledge, in 2020 the group was caught taking a $470,000 donation from Saudi Arabian real estate magnate Mohamed Bin Issa Al Jaber under the stipulation that the money could not be used to support LGBTQ advocacy (Emmons). In addition, Human Rights Watch has also come under fire for a revolving door on their board for US government members including NATO secretary, Javier Solana, Colombian ambassador, Myles Frechette, and CIA analyst, Miguel Diaz (Democracy Now). This revolving door allows Human Rights Watch to act as a mouthpiece for the US Government and the interests of their donors. The organization has been one of the strongest advocates for regime change in Venezuela. Their claims about Maduro and calls for regime change need to be looked at with scrutiny and conflicts of interests need to be addressed.
Another one of the most powerful voices for regime change in Venezuela has come from the Atlantic Council, a multimillion dollar think tank in Washington DC. In 2017 the Atlantic Council published a research report on their Economic Sanctions Initiative, which in their own words is meant to “build a platform for dialogue between the public and the private sector to investigate how to improve the design and implementation of economic sanctions. The initiative has a focus that goes beyond a purely national security perspective on sanctions to bridge the gap with the broader business perspective” (Forrer). This publicly available statement from the Atlantic Council helps to reveal what exactly is motivating these economic sanctions. The group openly admits that they are attempting to create a partnership between the public and private sectors. In other words, allowing private capital to use the state as a tool to create better business opportunities abroad.
The Atlantic Council’s board of directors is a who’s who of powerful U.S. businessmen, including Council Chairman, John F.W. Rogers, who also resides as an executive officer of Goldman Sachs. (Goldman Sachs). Chairman of the Atlantic Council International advisory board is former US treasury secretary, David McCormick, who is also the CEO of Bridgewater Associates, the self-proclaimed “world’s largest hedge fund” (Bridgewater). It’s far from a conspiracy theory to say that private business interests influence sanctions imposed by the United State Government. The Atlantic Council has close ties to both the state and private business, and as can be seen with David McCormick, often acts as a revolving door between the two groups. This relationship has allowed The Atlantic Council to have great influence over US economic policy dating all the way back to 2006 when their report on the global oil markets targeted Venezuela as a “major energy producer” who had “re-nationalized their oil assets”. The Atlantic Council goes on to say, “it was seen as an increasing challenge to U.S. dominance in global energy and political affairs” (Atlantic Council 2006). Rarely mentioned in the Atlantic Council briefings are concerns about human rights or fear of authoritarian power grabs by the Venezuelan Government. Those encouraging and crafting the sanctions seem to be primarily concerned with global oil markets rather than providing humanitarian aid.
Despite the United States public “commitment of humanitarian support for Venezuelan people” (US Treasury). A report done in 2019 by economist, Jeffery Sachs, linked 40,000 Venezuelan deaths as a direct result of US sanctions since 2017. (Sachs). Sachs makes the argument that the economic collapse in Venezuela is being purposefully orchestrated by the U.S. Government. The Trump administration has had the goal of regime change in Venezuela since 2017, when Trump initiated the idea to advisors of a full on military intervention in Venezuela, and even saying publicly in 2017 “we have many options for Venezuela, and by the way I’m not going to rule out a military option” (Merica).
After being met with pushback from those within his administration as well as many Latin American allies, Trump instead has opted to metaphorically strangle the Venezuelan economy through sanctions. The goal being to create more instability in the region, making it easier to instill a puppet President in Gauido who will hand the PDVSA over to U.S. Business interests. Sachs argues that in 2017, a new batch of U.S. sanctions prevented the PDVSA from accessing global oil markets, and prevented the company from restructuring its loans. The report finds that these sanctions are what triggered the hyperinflation Venezuela has experienced since 2017. After these sanctions were implemented oil revenue plummeted. As was mentioned earlier, the Venezuelan economy hinges entirely on the success of its oil revenue. As a result of decreased income, funding for medicine, food, and social welfare programs plummeted along with oil revenue. We also know that since 2017, the U.S. has directly intercepted money from Citgo which is supposed to be paid to the Venezuelan Government. John Bolton boasted about this fact when he was still with the Trump administration in 2019. (Mufson). Jeffery Sachs is clear that the numbers in his report are rough estimates based off what has been studied in Venezuelan universities. While nobody can know the exact death toll, Sachs says that we need to look at the clear fact that U.S. policy has created and exacerbated the Venezuelan economic crisis in order to destabilize the region and create regime change.
May 2020 saw the first coup attempt in Latin America in years. Two former Green Beret’s attempted to enter Venezuela through Macuto Port. It was later discovered that their plan was to travel to Caracas and simply take out Nicolas Maduro. The attempted coup was organized by the company Silvercorp, a company known for supplying bodyguards, who thought they should try their hand in mercenary work. The two men attempting the coup were captured by Venezuelan fisherman before they ever reached land in Venezuela. They have since been sentenced with up to 20 years in prison for the failed coup attempt.
The US of course denied involvement with the coup, despite the fact that they placed a multi-million dollar bounty on Maduro’s head for supposed drug trafficking. It is highly likely that the Silvercorp mercenaries were hoping to capitalize on that bounty. This incident demonstrates how deeply anti-Venezuelan propaganda has penetrated the US public consciousness. The US Government, and private media, have manufactured a culture in the US where people are willing to sacrifice 20 years in a Venezuelan prison, for an ill-fated attempt to take down the Venezuelan president, and also make some quick money. The mercenaries believed they would be welcomed as liberators, freeing the Venezuelan people from their tyrannical dictatorship. What they found in reality were simple fisherman, who remained loyal to the Venezuelan Government, and were willing to risk their lives to expel US imperialists. No situation illustrates US-Venezuela relations better than the Silvercorp coup of 2020.
Another factor that can’t be overlooked is Venezuela’s relationship to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Maduro referred to the IMF in 2020 as “bloodsucking assassins” as well as a “tool of U.S. imperialism” (Emersberger). As the Covid-19 pandemic has swept across the globe, the IMF has provided some legitimacy to Maduro’s claims. Being a country already struggling to fund its healthcare services, the Venezuelan people are at high risk for being killed by the virus (Reeves). To help keep hospitals running as they are flooded with covid-19 patients, Maduro requested a loan of $5 million from the IMF. The IMF has rejected the request claiming that there is no certainty whether the International Community recognizes Maduro or not. This action comes even though 105 countries voted at the United Nations assembly for Maduro to be included into the human rights council, with only 50 countries voting against. In addition to this, the IMF immediately offered loans to the opposition party who removed Hugo Chavez from office for a full 47 hours via coup in 2002. (Emersberger).
The IMF has a long history of assisting with U.S. foreign policy interests and global business interests alike. Although the original goal of the IMF was to prevent global economic crises, it has come under fire for acting as a tool of imperialism, especially at the behest of the United States. The Organization’s headquarters are stationed in Washington D.C. and the U.S. has the most votes on IMF decisions, and is the only country with the power to veto any actions voted on by the rest of the IMF council (Rivera). Those who sit on the IMF council are not elected democratically but are appointed by the United States and Europe (Hickel). Given the amount of U.S. control over the IMF it should be no surprise that the organization rejected Venezuela’s request for a loan. This situation highlights the hypocrisy of the claim that the United States is concerned with humanitarian issues in Venezuela. In a global panic surrounding the Corona Virus, the IMF is refusing to fund the failing Venezuelan hospitals. The US focus seems to be on further destabilizing Venezuela by refusing their request for life saving loans, while placing the blame on the Venezuelan Government by claiming it’s unclear who their leader is.
The statement from the IMF on Corona Virus says they currently have $1 trillion prepared, which it will use to “shield effected people and firms with large, timely, targeted fiscal and financial sector measures.” (Georgieva). Keeping the Venezuelan hospitals afloat would appear to be a worthy goal for an organization like the IMF tasked with keeping an eye on the global economy. The refusal to bail out the Venezuelan hospitals is evidence that the IMF acts as a tool of U.S. foreign policy interest rather than an organization entirely focused on the public good.
Continuing with the topic of Corona virus, an analysis of the US response to covid-19 in relation to Venezuela can also help to reveal their intentions in the region. As the pandemic has swept across the entire world, severely hindering the global economy, the US justice department has charged Maduro for being an illegal drug trafficker. The hope being that the global pandemic offers a prime opportunity for regime change in Venezuela. An article published by the New York Times in late March titled “U.S. Counts on Global Crises to Press Again for Power Shift in Venezuela” (Jakes). The US offered to relieve some of the harsh sanctions on Venezuela during the pandemic, so long as Maduro relinquishes power to opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The Times article fails to give an overview of the sanctions, or the Venezuelan situation, and only features interviews from high ranking US officials. One of these being Elliot Abrams, a diplomat who made a name for himself in the Reagan administration. The Times article asked Abrams about the Pandemic, and the recent crash of global oil prices with him saying “If any good can come out of those, maybe it is the combination of pressures on the regime that leads them to negotiate seriously.” This statement reveals the brutality of US foreign policy in Venezuela, and the dedication to regime change in the country. At a time when citizens in both the US and Venezuela are suffering from a pandemic, the goal of the government remains fixed on regime change. Venezuela remains desperate for funds to keep their hospitals running. A true humanitarian approach to Venezuela would be to relieve sanctions, and supply them with the loan to keep hospitals running. Instead the US looks to capitalize on the pandemic by destabilizing Venezuela further, and withholding aid until Maduro steps down. The pandemic reveals that the goal of the US in Venezuela has less to do with human rights, and everything to do with regime change.
Another common accusation hurled at the Venezuelan government is the censorship of independent media. A Times article from 2019 said of Venezuelan media “Most television is state-run, and authorities ban the few independent TV and radio stations from covering Venezuela’s crisis as it unfolds.” (Nugent). This statement is simply false as the last study conducted on Venezuelan media in 2013 found that of the three major media outlets in Venezuela only 25% of the public watches the state run VTV. The most popular news outlet is Venevision which is independently owned by billionaire Gustavo Cisneros, with 36% viewership. In addition to this are the privately owned Televen, and Globovision who account for a combined 37% of viewership. (Mccoy). The Time article is either ignorant to these statistics, or the author is choosing to lie purposefully in order to further encourage regime change.
The cries of censorship from the US appear hypocritical when analyzing the Venezuelan media in comparison with the Hegemonic US corporate media. In 2019 a survey from FAIR found “no voices in elite corporate media that opposed regime change” (Ostrow). When it comes to regime change in any country it is difficult to find any voices in the US media championing diplomacy rather than increasing sanctions or military aggression. As Noam Chomsky once said “any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the US media.” This rings true for the case in Venezuela as every mainstream media outlet calls for regime change in unison.
The primary error of the Socialist party in Venezuela has been the inability to diversify their economy beyond oil. When Hugo Chavez took power in 1998 he inherited a country suffering from Dutch Disease, with an oil industry which dwarfed all other industry in Venezuela. Having an economy which is over reliant on oil has made Venezuela an easy target for destabilization through economic sanctions. Along with this the vast oil reserves make Venezuela a gold mine for multi-national fossil fuel corporations. Venezuela have found themselves in a situation similar to Cuba after the fall of the USSR, hurriedly attempting to diversify in an attempt to survive the trade war being waged upon them by the world’s largest superpower. Venezuela has been critiqued as being a failure of socialism, but in reality Venezuela is not socialist enough. For comparison look to Norway, a country similar to Venezuela with a nationalized oil industry, and large oil reserves to pull from. Unlike Venezuela Norway is considered an economic success, maintaining a healthy welfare state, and ranking 7th globally in quality of life by the Economist. Unlike Venezuela, Norway has amassed a trillion dollars in capital, which pays for Government spending and the welfare state.
In total the Norwegian Government owns 76% of the countries non home national wealth. (Breunig). Although exact statistics on Venezuela are not available, we know their numbers are nowhere near this. In addition Venezuela has used their oil wealth to create social programs, but have not created large amounts of collectively owned capital in the same way Norway has. This process of creating collectively owned capital using oil revenue can prevent crises if the oil market is to crash “By purchasing shares rather than spending directly, these funds grow in comparison to their fossil-fuel income. For jurisdictions that are dependent on finite resources, this builds up a durable buffer stock of renewable financial income that can be used to pick up the slack from a declining fossil fuel industry.” (Gowan).
Norway’s key to success has been their ability to further collectivize the nation’s wealth, while further diversifying their economy. Venezuela on the other hand has failed to create this collectively owned capital, which the economy can fall back on in times of oil crisis. The irony of this being that the solution for Venezuela, the poster child for the failure of socialism, is more socialism, or collectivization of the nation’s wealth. Of course another distinct difference between these two countries, is that Norway has never been forced to deal with crippling economic sanctions. The luxury of being located in the European Global North has allowed Norway to mostly avoid becoming the target of imperialism. Venezuela on the other hand, must attempt to diversify their economy in the face of crippling sanctions, and constant foreign intervention.
Since sanctions have increased Venezuela has been experiencing what is known as hyperinflation. This occurs when a country experiences extreme inflation, meaning their currency loses its value, making the price of goods and services increase. Western media sources often blame Venezuela’s decision to print money as the reasoning for this hyperinflation they are now experiencing. An article by the economist reads “The worthlessness of Venezuela’s currency is the result of inflation, 46,000% a year, which in turn is largely caused by the printing of money to finance the Government’s deficit of 30% GDP.” The idea is that the increased amount of Venezuelan currency in circulation made it less valuable on a global scale when compared to other countries. This assertion requires further investigation, especially when considering all the factors at play in Venezuela.
Firstly we know that printing money does not always lead to hyperinflation. The best example of this is the United States, who have provided enormous corporate bailouts during the 2008 recession, and currently during the Corona pandemic. This has brought the country almost $25 trillion in debt, which outweighs the US GDP of around $20 trillion. The US will continue to take on debt during the pandemic, most recently agreeing to a $2 trillion dollar stimulus package to bailout major corporations including the airline industry according to Business Insider. Despite printing trillions for corporate bailouts, the United States has avoided experiencing hyperinflation. This is evidence that printing money is not in fact the root cause of the hyperinflation phenomenon. If it were the case that printing money caused hyperinflation, the US would have experienced the phenomenon a while ago.
Many economists now dispute the idea that hyperinflation is caused by the printing of money. A Forbes article from 2011 responding to the recession explained how inflation is far too complex to simply blame on the printing of money. The article by economist John T. Harvey explains that alternate factors such as global oil prices have far more to do with inflation than printing money. In addition to this much of the money in circulation at this point is digital, and not backed by any kind of physical currency. The inflation analogy given in introductory economics courses says to imagine a helicopter dropping money into one country. If a country does this they will then have more currency in circulation which devalues in comparison to other currencies in the world. However, the fact that much of the money in circulation is electronic complicates this theory. Money is no longer dependent on the amount of physical monetary value in circulation. Therefore, the US has been free to increase debt by handing stimulus money to the private sector without facing hyperinflation. The Harvey article is extremely technical, and involves a thorough mathematical analysis of factors which lead to inflation. His argument simply stated being “It is conventional wisdom that printing money causes inflation. This is why we are seeing so many warnings today of… how the Federal Government’s deficit will lead to skyrocketing prices. The only problem is, it’s not true. That’s not how inflation works.“(Harvey). The concept of inflation is far more complex than the media often makes it out to be. A deeper analysis is needed to truly understand the hyperinflation which Venezuela is currently experiencing.
To better understand hyperinflation we can look to the historical examples of when this economic phenomenon has occurred. Every time throughout history the economy experiencing hyperinflation has been subject to many external shocks. The primary example of this was Germany in the early 1920s. Following the First World War the treaty of Versailles was signed, concluding that Germany had started the war, and demanding they pay large reparations to the allied countries. The book When Money Dies by Adam Fergusson explains what happened in Germany following World War 1 which led to their hyperinflation. The books says of the Treaty of Versailles “what spelt doom were the clauses that made Germany responsible for the war and demanded colossal reparations- in money and in kind- to meet the allies cost” (Fergusson). It is clear that the outside shock caused by the allies is what caused the German economy to implode. The time that followed the treaty was a period of great economic instability for the people of Germany, which laid the foundation for the rise of fascism. Adolph Hitler and the Nazi party took advantage of this economic insecurity, unifying people against the allies who had a part in sending Germany into hyperinflation.
Much can be learned from the historical example of Germany’s hyperinflation almost 100 years ago. We know now that printing money is not the main factor which leads a country to hyperinflation. Outside shocks to a country’s economy are what send them spiraling into extreme inflation. Although there is no treaty demanding Venezuela pay the US reparations, as stated earlier in this paper, Citgo is now diverting money owed to the Venezuelan Government into US bank accounts (Mufson). Other outside shocks of course include the harsh economic sanctions, and the US influence over OPEC oil production used to deplete the amount of money Venezuela can sell their oil for (Lawler). Venezuela’s money printing habits likely have far less to do with the hyperinflation than does the external shock to their economy caused by this multitude of factors.
Unfortunately hyperinflation has strong negative impacts on the Venezuelan populace. Citizens are often forced to use alternative forms of currency, or cross the border into Columbia for food. An article by Reuters on the subject interviewed Venezuelan Citizen Moises Hernandez, who works in San Antonio Venezuela. Hernandez often times crosses the border into Colombia for food, and is paid in Colombian Pesos. Hernandez is quotes as saying “unless we buy over there, we cannot eat.” (Armas). This leaves the question of how those who don’t live on the border pay for food when their currency has lost its value while food prices increase? The answer is many don’t as people suffer from hunger and poverty in the heart of the country. The idea that US intervention in Venezuela is based on protecting human rights begins to fall apart when this is taken into consideration. Even the highest estimates of deaths inflicted by the Maduro government fall well short of the death and suffering caused by the systematic economic destabilization of the country.
Another charge often lobbed at Venezuela by Western media is their rejection of humanitarian aid from the United States. Maduro has used the Venezuelan military to blockade the border wherever the US attempts to ship humanitarian aid to the country. Opposition leader Juan Guaido on the other hand has been a strong proponent of allowing the humanitarian aid into the country. On the surface this seems like a simple issue, as Venezuela should accept the aid their people need. This is the media has helped to spin a narrative that Maduro is too proud to accept the aid, and would rather allow his people to suffer. An NPR articled parroted the talking points of the US foreign policy hawks such as Mike Pompeo saying “the Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.” (Wamsley). The only quote from Venezuela included in the article is from Maduro himself who said “never been, nor are we, a country of beggars.” This article along with many others relating to this topic portray the narrative that the US is trying to help, but Maduro’s pride is too great to accept the humanitarian aid. This from NPR, one of the most respected news outlets in America, who are sometimes accused of having a left wing bias. However, NPR’s willingness to champion regime change narratives in Venezuela bring into question their legitimacy as a left wing outlet.
In reality the reason Maduro gave for rejecting humanitarian aid from the United States is a fear that the US will not be sending exclusively food and medicine, but guns and ammunition to arm the opposition party against the socialist government. Elliot Abrams who is currently one of the strongest and most powerful proponents of regime change in Venezuela, was a part of the Reagan administration who shipped weapons disguised as humanitarian aid to the Contra forces in Nicaragua. This is not a matter of speculation but fact, as the US officials have admitted that this happened in 1986. An LA Times article reads “Reagan administration aids deliberately used a 1986 program of ‘Humanitarian Aid’ for Nicaraguan rebels to help support the secret effort to deliver military aid to the contras, U.S. officials said.” (Mcmanus). The US history of disguising weapons as humanitarian aid, with the goal of regime change, reveals the real reason Maduro is skeptical of accepting aid from the United States. Contrary to the narrative from Western media that the so called dictator is too proud to accept aid, Maduro’s true goal is to prevent the US backed opposition party from further arming themselves against the Government.
Not only does the US have a history of disguising arms as humanitarian aid in other Latin American countries, but have already been caught trying this tactic on Maduro’s Venezuela itself. During the Nicaraguan crisis the US used $27 million in congressionally approved humanitarian aid to hire a private consultant who then shipped arms to the contra forces. This pattern was replicated almost exactly in Venezuela, where a Boeing 767 airplane owned by a private company in North Carolina was caught smuggling arms into Venezuela. Democracy Now reports “Venezuelan authorities claimed they had uncovered 19 assault weapons, 118 ammunition cartridges, and 90 military grade radio antennas on board a US plane flown from Miami into Valencia” (Goodman). It was also reported that his plane had recently made 40 trips between Miami and Venezuela. The failure of US media to report the history of the US shipment of weapons disguised as aid into Latin America, further shows the agenda of those crafting these narratives. Rather than a nuanced discussion of the conflict between the two countries, and the economic hardships, Maduro is portrayed as a villainous dictator who starves his own people. It is easy to see why many in this country do not have a nuanced view of US foreign policy when supposed left wing outlets such as NPR perpetuate this black and white narrative of Maduro as a villain. The stories of Maduro rejecting humanitarian aid are case studies in how the media can use selective facts and quotes to promote their preferred narrative.
The narrative told about Venezuela in the Western Media is far from the whole story. The harsh economic sanctions intended to destabilize the country are rarely if ever critically analyzed by corporate media. A deeper dive into the sources of the information shows clear conflict of interest, as those who control the media often have business interest in freeing up the Venezuelan oil reserves to be extracted and sold by multinational corporations. With nine of ten United States elections being decided by the candidate who raises the most money, these corporations now appear to have a stranglehold on the United States Government. (Open Secrets). This corporate domination over the U.S. political system has allowed for the systematic destabilization of Venezuela, although the U.S. has yet to reach their ultimate goal of regime change in the country. As even supposed left wing democratic socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez come out in favor of regime change in Venezuela, it is important to look deeper into what is truly occurring in the country, and what the motives of U.S. corporations are in the country. It is equally as important to remain critical of how much power corporations are allowed to have over the CIA and other tools of government, international agencies such as the IMF and World Bank, as well as the Media who inform the public about issues of foreign policy. A more critical analysis of all these factors reveal that the situation in Venezuela is far more complicated than it appears on the surface.
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