Venezuela collapses and nobody cares

Scott Gilmore on why Canada should do more for Venezuela

Security forces clash with people trying to reach Miraflores presidential palace to protest against the severe food and medicine shortages, in Caracas on June 2, 2016. Venezuelans face long lines at supermarkets tightly guarded by nervous soldiers, bare shelves and soaring prices inside, a dysfunctional health care system short on basic medications and supplies, daily power cuts of four hours across most of the country, and a government that only operates two days a week to save electricity. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Security forces clash with people trying to reach Miraflores presidential palace to protest against the severe food and medicine shortages, in Caracas on June 2, 2016. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

We like to think that progress is irreversible. We look at our roads and supermarkets and hospitals and while we know that everything could be better, we rarely worry it will all collapse. Unhappily, right now Venezuela is proving that all of this can suddenly disappear, and it’s frightening.

The country is falling apart, rapidly and completely. By many measures, it is one of the most blessed nations in the Americas. It has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, almost twice Canada’s. It has rich agricultural land, incredible biodiversity and huge amounts of mineral wealth. And yet its people are now starving; its infrastructure is in tatters; law and order have broken down. And strangely, Canada doesn’t appear to care.

In the late 1990s, after a string of corruption scandals, a disillusioned populace turned away from the two main traditional political parties and elected the populist demagogue Hugo Chávez. The ensuing “Bolivarian Revolution” completely rewired the Venezuelan constitution and economy.

Industries were nationalized. Price controls were implemented. Farmland was expropriated. The currency was devalued. As a result, not surprisingly, the economy completely collapsed. At the same time, its democratic institutions were also assaulted. Human rights abuses multiplied, elections were fixed and political opponents were jailed. The slide into chaos continued after Chávez’s death in 2013 when his successor, Nicolás Maduro, doubled down on the same policies.

Now, drought has effectively shut off hydroelectric power. The drop in oil prices has decimated government revenues—it can no longer afford to keep its offices open for even three days a week. Unemployment is endemic. Hospitals have run out of medicine, equipment, even bed sheets. There are food riots in the streets, a state of emergency has been declared, and the military is being mobilized to prevent further rioting.

There is no indication that Maduro will back down and institute economic or political reforms. He continues to blame Venezuela’s troubles on either international conspiracies or his political opponents. Legislation passed by the opposition-controlled congress is either blocked by loyalists in the Maduro-appointed judiciary or simply ignored by the president and the bureaucracy.

And there’s not much anyone can do about it. One of the only successes of the Bolivarian Revolution was to insulate Caracas from outside pressure. The international community has few levers to pull that would force Maduro to moderate his political or economic abuses.

One man who has not given up hope is the secretary-general of the Organization of American States, Luis Almagro. The unwritten rules of leading multilateral organizations such as the OAS, the African Union or the United Nations is that you should smile a great deal, be polite to everyone and maybe issue the occasional anodyne press release about “consensus building”—just ask Ban Ki-moon.

Almagro, a former Uruguayan foreign minister, didn’t get that memo, and his tenure to date at the OAS has been an impressive display of muscular diplomacy. He has been a lonely champion for the Venezuelan people, willing to call out Maduro’s abuses and crimes. His open letters, which have included Bob Marley lyrics, are a pleasure to read (particularly for me, having once been an exceptionally ill-suited diplomat). In return, the Venezuelan strongman has railed furiously against the secretary-general, attacking him at protest rallies reminiscent of 1984’s “Two Minutes Hate.”

I spoke with Almagro about the crisis and shared my skepticism that the international community could cajole an increasingly defensive Maduro. The secretary-general was far more optimistic, and argued that the Inter-American Democratic Charter and the Inter-American Human Rights System could be used to help defuse the Venezuelan crisis by providing clear standards against which Caracas could not help but be measured. A senior diplomat of one of the member states of the OAS told me Almagro’s outspoken efforts had created space for other leaders to speak out more freely.

But, so far, no one is taking advantage of this. The United States has been mostly silent, as has Canada. You would think that the single biggest economic and political crisis in the western hemisphere would warrant at least a comment from Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion, but so far he has done little other than meet with a delegation of Venezuelan opposition members.

International relations almost always involve painful trade-offs, as we have seen in the case of the sale of LAVs to Saudi Arabia. Situations like Venezuela, where the right thing to do is so clear and requires so few sacrifices, are rare. Canada could be incredibly useful merely by speaking up about the human rights abuses, continuing to support the Inter-American Human Rights System, and increasing local programming to back democratic reform.

Canada is almost never as influential as the public thinks. We’re very good at lending a helping hand (unless of course that requires any actual military effort), but that’s usually about it. Venezuela provides a unique opportunity to play a more significant role. To say things other countries won’t, to do things that matter, to help Almagro fight the good fight. For the life of me, I don’t understand why we aren’t.

Scott Gilmore is married to Catherine McKenna, the minister of the environment.


Venezuela collapses and nobody cares

  1. Perfect description of the history and present state of Venezuela under Chavism. Yes, the govts immediately prior to Chavez were more corrupt than usual (but a large amount of nepotism and such was always present in politics there), and Chavez made extravagant promises (like Trump) that were unrealistic and only served to appeal to the disenfranchised, and the poorly educated. Once in power they were more corrupt than ever, thinking it their right to make up for lost time. Chavez had charisma; Maduro has none. The success of Chavez was put on the credit card, with the bill now coming due.

    • Why yes, it is only Trump that makes extravagant promises – build that wall. The Democrats don’t promise free health-care, free college, free Obama phones, free food, and free diapers (didn’t pass this year here in Calif but will next year if economy doesn’t tank).

      Any one or party will become corrupt if they remain in power too long unchallenged. Human nature.

      Venezuela is a perfect example of the over reach of Socialism.

      • ” Venezuela has a Market-based mixed economy dominated by the petroleum sector, which accounts for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. Per capita GDP for 2009 was US$13,000, ranking 85th in the world.[51] Venezuela has the least expensive petrol in the world because the consumer price of petrol is heavily subsidized.”

        • glad EmilyNone that you can read Wikipedia at least.

          Perhaps you forgot the part where it states that Ven. must now import petroleum… but glad to see you’re still in form, still awaiting the android milkman.

          • Ahhh you’re the crackpot that still believes in milkmen

  2. The Left now leads the government in both Canada and the US. Neither regime will own up to the hell of their acolytes making. Let’s send Sean Penn back there permanently just to see his ideas for fixing that FUBAR country.

    • There is no ‘left’ or ‘right’

      Most countries are Third Way now

    • You think the US govt is left? Left of what? Regime? Ignorance such as yours doesn’t deserve a reply. Go look up: leftist & regime. You obviously do not understand the definition of either.

  3. Hello, an online fundraiser has been created to purchase and deliver medications to failing hospitals in Caracas, Venezuela. All information about this fundraiser, including where donations will go, and how they will be used are in this website below. It is a non profit organization so all proceeds will go directly to helping those in need. Thanks for the article! Feel free to share this.

  4. Socialism Kills Countries Dead the same as Muslims Kill Fags Dead…Simple

        • Go take your pills and stop boring everybody with ‘snappy comebacks’

  5. I love the suffering in Venezuela. These antisemites are getting what they deserve. Where id Danny Glover and Sean Penn now the two f…ing idiots. Thank goodness Donald Trump will be our next President and hopefully he will nuke that country.

    • Oh give the bullshit a rest ferfuxsake.

  6. People care but because it doesn’t it the narrative of the MSM or the political elite (that socialism is just swell), there is no mention of it. Venezuela was the perfect case study in how socialism could save the poor and oppressed. An oil rich country combined with socialism – how could it go wrong. Even with the collapse of oil prices, it would not have been as bad if socialism, in itself, was not so toxic.

    The result is that it is not on the front page of every paper because they could hardly have that and then support the Leap Manifesto and the Bernie/Hillary show.

  7. Gilmore- A little clarity is in order. You state that a drought is responsible for the huge reduction in available hydro-power. The drought occurring is well within the range of other historical dry spells for the region. What has killed their hydro-power is a combination of bad decisions, all in the socialist vein.
    First off, the nationalization of the oil industry initiated an exodus of capital and talent. This led to a reduction in the domestic oil supply. Coupled with that, was the loss of electrical supply from oil fired generation. The Chavez government labelled their efforts to reduce reliance on oil-fired electricity a “global warming” initiative, when it was something else. This led to the need to ramp up power from hydro dams. Unfortunately, you can only draw a lake down as fast as the water comes in, or you empty it, a concept often lost on socialists. A hydro pool and a tax pool share interesting similarities.
    Now, lacking hydro power, and with shuttered oil-fired generating stations, there isn’t even enough electricity to pump oil through pipelines for export. They don’t even have the means to pump oil in order to re-fire their oil-fired generation plants. It is Mao’s Great Leap Forward all over again.

    • ” Venezuela has a Market-based mixed economy dominated by the petroleum sector, which accounts for roughly a third of GDP, around 80% of exports, and more than half of government revenues. Per capita GDP for 2009 was US$13,000, ranking 85th in the world.[51] Venezuela has the least expensive petrol in the world because the consumer price of petrol is heavily subsidized.”

      Much the same as Alberta

    • It’s not Socialism that’s killing Venezuela, it’s Totalitarianism. Northern European countries are Socialist (to an extent), but it was Chavez’s government trying to run every facet of life that caused ruin.

      But you make some very valid points on how they got where they are.

  8. “The international community has few levers to pull that would force Maduro to moderate his political or economic abuses.”

    Actually, the international community has quite the big lever to pull against Maduro: they could stop buying Venezuela’s oil. If the Maduro regime continues to abuse its power, ignore the Venezuelan constitution, and let the Venezuelan people starve, then hopefully the international community, or at least the US, will consider putting economic sanctions on Venezuela. That would pretty much destroy whatever the Venezuelan economy has left and they would have no choice but to change.

    • I would boycott Saudi Arabia before Venezuela. But we can’t even get our ethical oil to market to give customers a choice.

  9. So an entire population ignores international law and foreign owners, and now we should have sympathy when it doesn’t work out as planned?
    The smart ones got out when they could. The remainder are already on the take or simply want someone else to pay for them. Either way, they should look within to find a solution.

  10. “Nobody cares” would seem to include the opposition. After all this time no one knows what it would do differently except put its people in charge of stealing to replace the old regime’s people in charge of stealing. Merely replacing Maduro is hardly a program. Would it float the Bolivar? Eliminate the current direct subsidies to the poor or replace them with a bolsa familia or?

  11. Any action taken by the US 9or by extension Canada) will be presented as proof of imperialist intervention.

    Venezuelans elected a government that promised to do exactly what it has done. Now they are roasting in it. Our best bet is to wait until they ask for help.

  12. You would think that Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, Kevin Spacey, Danny Glover, Oliver Stone, Harry Belafonte, Naomi Campbell, and many other celebrities who so conspicuously supported Chavez when he lived – acting like PR flacks for every outrage of Chavez’s – would be there now to help out. Or even to give some support to the Venezuelan people they were so in support of just a few short years ago… Sean, Oliver, Danny?… anyone there now?

  13. The problems with the United States or even Canada saying anything about Venezuela is that despite that fact that it’s well meaning it’s interpreted by the regmine as hostile (and always in a childish manner). The US State Department understands this issue well and that’s why they don’t antagonize them. It gives them a reason to clamp down on the opposition and dig in deeper. Change in Venezuela is going to have to come from within. The people will have to fight for their right to exist, fight the Venezuelan police and military on the streets for their right to their next meal if they want to survive.

  14. Yes, nobody cares because there i$ alway$ big intere$ in all those countries that collaborated with the Venezuelan government corruption. Example, Canada’s interest: mining, breaking many Canadian environmental law, but Venezuelan politicians are easy to corrupt, some $$.$$$ is enough to do good mining Business.

    From Russia to USA and from Canada to Argentina, several counties played a role that destroyed the Venezuelan economy and of course the quality of life in there.

    Guns and military equipments is sold by who to the Venezuelan Government?
    Who does business with the drugs that exit from Venezuela to North America and Europe?
    Which corporation didn’t took benefits of the exchange control in Venezuela to make more money?
    Who still lending money to Venezuela?
    Which neighbor county is not taking its part getting “cheap gas and good” from Venezuela? Leading the country in shortages?

    Then, when Venezuelan people emigrate or ask for refuge, they are ticked off as a “latino” who steals work places for some bucks, but NOBODY CARES why that human is outside his country.

    So Yes, the world is interconnected, what ever happens in one side of the world, has an effect in other side of the world.

    Solutions….. I don’t know…. try to be real humans, where one life is more important than make money,
    go for a real democracy = republic = decentralization, where everybody matters.

    Of course, Venezuelan people need to try to get all those 300 trillions (yes $300,000,000,000,000) that exit from his country, pay dept and start to produce internally.

  15. I am a Venezuelan who recently came to Canada as a Permanent Resident (4 months ago). Why? Because my country was collapsing and we were afraid of be part of the statistic of criminality that overshadow our society. I am a lawyer and complete a Master in Legal Studies here in Ottawa. My Research Essay was about the role of the OAS in Venezuela… if we wait till the change of this dictatorial regime will be from within, please expect several death and political prisoners and more poverty. The people who runs my country are criminals, they will not leave power by democratic rules.
    One of the comments of this article said “The people will have to fight for their right to exist, fight the Venezuelan police and military on the streets for their right to their next meal if they want to survive.” The civil society does not have guns to confront military and a corrupted police force. We have votes and, as the author of the article mentioned, the electoral game have being fixed several times.
    I support and applaud not only Scott Gilmore for raised his voice but also, I give a standing ovation to Luis Almagro who has confront the regime with brave and courage.
    VENEZUELA is under a DICTATORSHIP and we need the International help if we do not want to be on a Humanitarian Crisis or worst, into a Civil war.

    • Valentina Guzman

      Welcome to Canada!

    • I hear you, but don’t expect too much productive discussion from our Minister of International Affairs, Mr. Dion. This man was disliked immensely when he was running for PM. Now he is simply disliked. His brain turned off after he lost the election and hasn’t had a sober thought since. Today he is simply a figurehead for the department and if Trudeau recognizes the need for good international affairs between Canada and the rest of the world he’s going to have to put someone who is functioning on all 4.

      • It was a surprise for me, even considering who leads the government – I have no respect for Dion since listening to him run down Canada at the Bali conference. He is a disaster in motion.

        • “Stéphane Dion has a doctoral d’état — a state-sanctioned Ph.D. — and a bronze medal from the CNRS, the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Tell any Frenchman that, and his mouth forms a big silent O. In this most elitiste of societies, docteur d’état is crème de la crème. Stéphane Dion is not just a mere dual citizen; he is an official member of the lofty, top-tier club of the contemporary French intellectual elite.”

  16. Canada has benefited from the expertise Hugo Chavez chased out of the country, not a big deal but they know heavy oil. However I don’t want my tax dollars going anywhere near the place at this time, it will likely be diverted into financing the next regime, which will be as corrupt and ideological as the last. You would think after a couple centuries of this South Americans would recognize the pattern, and some do.

    That’s when we help. I believe most of the hardship stories so far are mainly propaganda – a typical effort by authoritarian socialist governments to use their own victims as advertising. Propping up the government that did this is a very bad idea.

    • But being admitted since 1990, Canada is already a part of the OAS, whose stated priorities includes:

      “Strengthening democracy: Between 1962 and 2002, the Organization sent multinational observation missions to oversee free and fair elections in the member states on more than 100 occasions. The OAS also works to strengthen national and local government and electoral agencies, to promote democratic practices and values, and to help countries detect and defuse official corruption.”

  17. When Venezuela gives the west the big middle finger then where is the incentive to help them? Venezuela is in a “I told you so” situation and until they have bottomed out there is no incentive to support them. Aid will come with political change. I wonder why all these poor people that received all the money have not worked hard to build the country up over all those years?

  18. It’s a bit of a mischaracterization that we don’t care. What many of believe is that this crisis must be allowed to unfold in all of its tragic glory as an object lesson for the Notley’s, the Trudeau’s, and the Wynne’s and all of their ilk. There is nothing that occurred in the governance of Venezuela that is not from the playbooks of any of these three buffoons. Nothing. The left has to own this, like it or not. If tens of thousands are going to die because socialism got out of control in Venezuela, then so be it. There, but for the grace of God (so far) go us.
    Sure, some of the usual suspects here will chime in “that’s not socialism, it’s totalitarianism”. Maybe, but inside every socialist is a totalitarian screaming to be unleashed. (See: Wynne, Kathleen). There’s never a retreat from socialism. Whenever it makes a problem worse, or simply creates one that didn’t exist, there’s never a “walk away” day. It’s always a double-down, instead.
    Let Venezuela burn, and watch the socialists squirm.

        • You don’t even know what the word means, Billy Bob.

  19. There’s only one solution, send in Naomi Klein! She’ll shut down the planet killing petroleum industry, and get science adviser David Suzuki to convince people to harvest sunbeams to grown non-GMO hemp and soybeans, soon everyone will be giving group hugs and if the army has to mow a few counter-revolutionaries down, they’ll do it humanely and use the bodies for organic fertilizer!

  20. Kudos to Scott Gilmore for his insightful and poignant article on Venezuela’s collapse and the Canadian government’s apparent indifference. Sadly, Venezuela and most of Latin America were bequeathed some of the worst models of governance from the Old World. Benighted dictators, like Chavez and Maduro, besotted with socialism have continued to follow this system that has consistently failed throughout the world in the last 100 years and caused untold suffering to millions.
    Many highly capable and wonderful Venezuelans were forced to leave or have fled their country in the last 15 years. Nonetheless, they have provided remarkable benefit to Canada (and other nations) – especially in the energy industries. It is in Canada’s moral and economic interest to extend generous and proactive welcoming status for Venezuelans in Canada while pressing for improved human rights and governance in Venezuela.

  21. Well, aid to Venezuela will go right down the rabbit hole. The government needs to allow the farmers to farm and they have to allow business to invest, that is, they need to eliminate government control. They are not going to do that and chaos is going to reign.

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