Why Venezuela's Struggle Must Be Our Struggle
Venezuela is imploding. Rank mismanagement under both Hugo Chavez and his heir, current President Nicolas Maduro, has sent the economy spiraling out of control. The reckless pursuit of a Communist utopia has left everyday supplies scarce, including basic foodstuffs and medicines, while decades of autocracy have shattered Venezuelan democracy.
Venezuela's shocking reality should be a concern for all Americans, not only the community of almost 300,000 Venezuelan expats. To allow such damaging, naked oppression to go unanswered on our doorstep would undermine the United States' ethical standards and global influence.
In the meantime, Venezuela is paying a steep price for its leaders' utter neglect. For 14 years Chavez, and since 2013, his hapless successor Maduro have gambled on Venezuela's oil riches to subsidize social programming. But the energy bubble has burst, and the country has nothing to fall back on. With no alternative productive industry, Venezuela's economy is left with nothing more than a massive debt of about $120 billion, leaving financial default a question of when, not if. And yet, Maduro continues to blame the situation on a fictitious "economic war" being waged by opponents.
The impact on everyday Venezuelans is becoming more unimaginable by the week. The world's highest inflation rate has made the local currency practically worthless. Not that there is much to purchase. People wait in line for up to six hours simply to buy a carton of milk. Meanwhile, Venezuela's own pharmaceutical federation chief has highlighted problems distributing up to 80 percent of the country's medications. The light is quite literally in danger of being switched off in Venezuela, with increasingly frequent power outages. One way or another, a humanitarian crisis is looming.
Decades of authoritarian rule has left a neutered opposition. Street protests against Maduro's government in early 2014 were met with government violence, leaving at least 40 people dead and 650 injured, while many of the thousands arrested were tortured. Meanwhile, opposition leaders have been routinely arrested and imprisoned on trumped-up charges.
Although the remaining, working opposition recently won a crushing victory over Maduro's Socialist Party in December's parliamentary elections, the overall system leaves them with little genuine power. The regime-backed judiciary has already vetoed parliamentary initiatives and granted Maduro fresh "emergency" powers. Like some of history's most notorious dictators, Maduro retains a veneer of democratic institutions, manipulating them to maintain his own authority. In reality, Venezuelan democracy is becoming a relic of the past.
And so, few options are left if Venezuela is going to change. Perhaps the only remaining significant option is international pressure. Although much of the Western world has disowned Venezuela's 'Chavista' rulers, the international community's potential impact should not be underestimated. As the bottom continues to fall out of the country's economy and the walls close in on Maduro to find an answer, he will inevitably be forced to look toward global markets and international relief.
This gives global powers, and in particular the United States as the pre-eminent regional force, real leverage. There has been much talk already in this election cycle about a new America, a great America. Standing up for Venezuela is surely what this means. This is why the current drive toward normalization with Cuba must come at a price — Havana must know that full ties with Washington are dependent on reform by their comrades in Venezuela.
If we are serious about democracy prevailing in today's world order, then America must make its voice heard. Starting with the candidates for Senate and Congress in this very state.
With by far the largest number of Venezuelan Americans in any one state, if Florida's representatives won't raise their voices, then who will? Venezuela's suffering will soon reach the point of no return. The time for action, is now. The alternative is dire both for Venezuela's survival and America's soul.
Antonio de la Cruz is a political analyst and chairman of the board of the Venezuelan American Leadership Council