Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Venezuela Has Become a Starvation State

from The Daily Beast
Behold the fruits of chavismo: children going hungry.

Nicolás Maduro never looks too sure of what he’s saying. For a man who’s been accused of enforcing authoritarian rule over Venezuela, there’s no resolve in his speeches. It’s odd. Just before he starts a statement you notice a small pause and a mumble, a hesitation, as if he was debating with the voices in his head. It doesn’t matter whether he’s speaking from a colonial press conference room in the Government Palace of Miraflores or, as he did last weekend during a nationwide military exercise, surrounded by men in uniform, holding their rifles high above their heads, chanting oaths of loyalty to the revolution.

How could Maduro not second guess his speeches, when every second that passes chavismo misses an opportunity to fix the economic mess that has brought Venezuela to a deadly standstill? Bears the question: why wouldn’t he just go ahead and fix the mess?

Hugo Chávez has been dead for more than three years, and the results of his irresponsible fiscal policies and criminally despotic rule have finally come to light in the form of pain and misery.

Images of Hospitals that look like catacombs, and prisons that have become maximum security business centers for criminals where no law applies, have become a reference when speaking about the country. But the wound goes much deeper than that.

We’re not just talking about shortages of basic staples such as toilet paper and soap, or daily electricity cuts, the five-day weekends for public employees, or about any of those stories that have turned Venezuela into a punchline with a seat at the United Nations Human Rights Council. No. The economic collapse at the hands of chavista economic policies has brought something deadlier, and so much simpler: hunger.

Children who eat once or twice a day, who don’t go to school because they don’t have the energy. Families of four sharing a portion for one person. These stories have become as common as social media posts from people hunting for medicine to tend the ailments of their loved ones. This is the new kind of misery porn that has been drawing attention to Venezuela. A country that squandered close to a Trillion Dollars of oil revenue under chavista rule. Try to wrap your head around that sum for a sec. And now try to refocus on the country that today drowns in a humanitarian crisis. It’s as if the rate of the fall is proportional to the income received and wasted.

And yet, the Maduro administration remains paralyzed. If Chávez was guilty for the decisions that steered Venezuela onto this collision course, then Maduro’s sin is inaction, watching as the country crashes into the iceberg without lifting a finger, except forcefully preventing anyone else taking the helm.

Only the president seems to lack a sense of urgency. This is why, after a landslide victory against chavismo in the December parliamentary elections, the opposition is backing a referendum to recall the President. The Government, backed by a hand-picked Supreme Tribunal and the Armed Forces, has gone to great lengths to block and delay the referendum process and to nullify parliament. Maduro has gone as far as declaring a State of Emergency over the whole of the country, saying the recall is part of a plot between the Venezuelan parliament and foreign empires to oust President Maduro.

Again, you want to ask: Why? Why doesn’t the Government make the basic changes that the country’s economy is desperate for right now? Why doesn’t it look for a solution instead of wasting precious time making up enemies and raping windmills?

Well, the answer to the question is: because they can’t. And the reason is part incompetence, part thuggery, and a big part, the dead man himself, Chávez.

Replacing a strong man is never easy. Whatever Hugo Chávez left after he died, it’s as if he intended for no one else to be able to run it. Imagine a feudal state, composed of several shogunates with their corrupt interests intertwined. Or look at it this way. It’s like a Mexican standoff, no one can move without exposing their vulnerabilities and being taken down by other chavista leaders.

And at the center of this disaster we have the military caste. After Chávez took power in 1998, many officers close to him left the ranks to take positions within the Government. He encouraged the Armed Forces to become politically active and militant in his defense, and with this he opened the doors to imposing military hierarchy over different parts of the civilian government.

The brass has paraded through the public administration, often leaving with inexplainable fortunes. Others, who remain in their posts, have been accused of involvement with organized crime and drug trafficking. And then, there’s a large portion of active military folk usually referred to as the “institutional Armed Forces.” It’s in the hands of this last group that the hopes of many Venezuelans rely.

Some believe that this institutional wing of the military have the last say on whether the recall referendum is fast tracked or if it will be delayed until next year. Keep in mind that if it’s held in 2016, the Constitution mandates for a Presidential Election, if it’s delayed, the Chavista VP would remain as President until the end of Maduro’s term (in 2019).

Let’s be clear, Venezuela needs much more than just a change of president. It needs a complete overhaul of its political institutions. But this sort of mythological mantle in which the military are wrapped is nothing new to Venezuelans. For many years, much more than those of chavista regime, people have turned to them when the going gets tough. Considering that they’re the ones to blame for a big part of this disaster, believing that they will provide the country with a solution smacks of Stockholm Syndrome.

The crisis feels like it’s reached a point of no return, and it will get worse real fast. Just a couple of days ago, the Minister of Finance said that the country should be confident that inflation this year will not go over 900%. That’s a heart stopping figure there, for a government that does what it can to hide official economic numbers.

While inflation eats away at the country, and looting becomes an almost daily event, Nicolás Maduro tries to cozy up to the Armed Forces. The saddest expression of this was the sight of his large, clumsy figure, huddled together with tiny soldiers at the end of this year’s military exercises called to practice against the looming American invasion. Maduro mumbled a half chewed oath of loyalty to the revolution and its Supreme Commander.

The minister of defense, Vladimir Padrino López, remained by his side, repeating the chants vowing the union of the armed forces with civilians to defend the fatherland. The military exercises included pro-government civilian militias empowered to enforce some provisions of the state of exception decree. “Unión cívico-militar,” they call it.

With the military’s top brass still at his side, Maduro then gave an address on national television where he assured that the military were loyal to his government despite the attempts by the Empire to pull them apart. He was trying to dissipate strong rumors that the Armed Forces were pressuring him to negotiate with the opposition to move forward and find a resolution to the crisis.

What Maduro, and most prominent chavista politicians don’t seem to understand, while they hold their war games and as they produce half smirks as they say Venezuela is under attack by an opposition led international conspiracy, is that no matter how domesticated Venezuelans might be, there has been no time in recent history where they have been under this kind of strain.

Every single scenario for a peaceful resolution to the crisis transits through chavismo giving up power. And giving up power means exposing themselves. It means accountability.

Time is running out, and it seems that the government is not bothered by this.

The opposition is working against the clock, racing to meet recall deadlines before it’s too late. They’re trying to find a democratic resolution to the problem not just out of conviction, but because they realize the alternative is an existential threat to them.

A civil upheaval is a real possibility. And when the shooting starts, the people with the guns win.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The End of Socialism?

from InfoWars
Over the last several years we have documented with clockwork regularity Venezuela’s collapse into failed state status, which was cemented several weeks ago when news hit that “Venezuela had officially run out of money to print new money.” At that point the best one could do was merely to step back and watch as local society and civilization turned on itself, unleashing what would ultimately turn into Venezuela’s own, sad apocalypse.

Last night we showed what Caracas, looks like this week:
As we wrote then these are simply hungry Venezuelans protesting that their children are dying from lack of food and medicine and that they do not have enough water or electricity. As AgainstCronyCapitalism added, this is a country with more oil than Saudi Arabia, and the government has stolen all the money and now they bottleneck peaceful protesters and threaten them with bombs (or haul them to prison and torture them).

As pure desperation has set in, crime has becomes inevitable. A man accused of mugging people in the streets of Caracas was surrounded by a mob of onlookers, beaten and set on fire, who published a pixeled-out but still graphic video of the man burning as mob justice is now the supreme arbiter of who lives and who dies:

“Roberto Fuentes Bernal, 42, was reportedly caught trying to mug passersby in the Venezuelan capital, and before police arrived at the scene, the crowd took the law into their own hands.” The video can be seen here.

Now, in the latest shocking development, Venezuela saw a new wave of looting this week that resulted in at least two deaths, countless wounded, and millions of dollars in losses and damages.

According to Panampost, on Wednesday morning, a crowd sacked the Maracay Wholesale Market in the central region of Venezuela. According to the testimonies of merchants, the endless food lines that Venezuelans have been enduring to do groceries could not be organized that day.

As time went by, desperate Venezuelans grew anxious over not being able to buy food. Then they started jumping over the gates and stormed the supermarket.

“They took milk, pasta, flour, oil, and milk powder. There were 5,000 people” one witness told Venezuela outlet El Estímulo.

People from across the entire state came to the supermarket because there were rumors that some products not found anywhere else would be sold there.

As a result of the massive crowd, the authorities were unable to preserve the peace. “There were 250 people for each National Guard officer… lots of people and few soldiers. At least one officer was beat up because he tried to stop the crowd,” another source told El Estímulo.
Other food dispensaries run by the government were also looted by the people.

Far from the promised socialist paradise, as the massive group of people moved, an entrance gate collapsed under the weight of the crowd, leaving several wounded.

Over the last two weeks, several provinces have hosted scenes of looting in pharmacies, shopping malls, supermarkets, and food delivery trucks. In several markets, shouts of “we are hungry!” echoed. On April 27, the Venezuelan Chamber of Food (Cavidea) reported that the country’s food producers only had 15 days left of inventory.

PanamPost adds that lootings are becoming an increasingly common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket — this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas.
Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people “broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”
In the central province of Carabobo, residents ransacked a corn warehouse located in the coastal city of Puerto Cabello. They reportedly broke down the gate because workers were giving away small portions.

“There’s no rice, no pasta, no flour,” resident Glerimar Yohan told La Costa, “only hunger.”

* * *
Social Collapse Is Inevitable

With the economy dead, the only thing remaining is to watch as society implodes. To that end, Oscar Meza, Director of the Documentation Center for Social Analysis (Cendas-FVM),said that measurements of scarcity and inflation in May are going to be the worst to date. “We are officially declaring May as the month that [widespread] hunger began in Venezuela,” he told Web Noticias Venezuela. … “As for March, there was an increase in yearly prices due to inflation — a 582.9 percent increase for food, while the level of scarcity of basic products remains at 41.37 percent.”

Meza said the trigger for the crisis is the shortage of bread and other foods derived from wheat.

“Prices are so high that you can’t buy anything, so people don’t buy bread, they don’t buy flour. You get porridge, you see the price of chicken go up and families struggle … lunch is around 1,500 bolivars… People used to take food from home to work, but now you can’t anymore because you don’t have food at home.”

The is why, Español Ramón Muchacho, Mayor of Chacao in Caracas, said the streets of the capital of Venezuela are filled with people killing animals for food. “Muchacho reported that in Venezuela, it is a “painful reality” that people “hunt cats, dogs and pigeons” to ease their hunger.”

Subsquently, Muchacho warned that Caribbean islands and Colombia may suffer an influx of refugees from Venezuela if food shortages continue in the country.

“As hunger deepens, we could see more Venezuelans fleeing by land or sea to an island,” Muchacho said.
And that is how all socialist utopias always end.
* * *

Meanwhile, as civil war appears inevitable, as we reported last night there are factions vying to oust Maduro, but signs that he may hang on and force his population to endure more of this socialist nightmare. One can only hope that these shocking scenes remain relegated to the streets of offshore socialist paradises, although Americans should always prepare for the worst in case they eventually manage to make their way into the country.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Every Soldier a Praetorian General...

from Bloomberg
Venezuela has more than 4,000 generals, compared with fewer than 50 in 1993. This kind of runaway inflation is every bit as pernicious as the economic variety, which also afflicts Venezuela -- in fact, they have to be addressed together.

Instead, opponents of President Nicolas Maduro are hellbent on removing him from power, and they have collected some 2 million signatures on a recall petition. Maduro still has significant political support, and he will use his control of the executive and judicial branches to frustrate and delay that effort, which is unlikely to succeed this year. (If a recall succeeds in 2017, Maduro's vice president will step in to complete his term.) The opposition's credibility has already been hurt by its rash boast that it would throw out Maduro within six months after taking over the legislature in January.

It would be far better for the opposition to focus on winning votes for the election in 2019, when the current presidential term ends. That means uniting around a coherent plan to fix Venezuela's imploding economy -- an economy in which the military is increasingly involved and invested.

In February, Maduro put the military in charge of a new state oil and mining services company -- one of nearly a dozen military enterprises started under his administration. Active or former officers head about one-third of Venezuela's ministries and govern nearly half its 23 states. Service members have gotten big raises; preferential access to housing, cars and food; and promotions. Officers have won lucrative contracts, exploiting currency controls and subsidies -- selling cheap gasoline to Venezuela's neighbors at enormous profit, for instance.

One way to put the military back in the box is to make clear that misdeeds will face consequences. The U.S. is building cases against officers implicated in Venezuela's burgeoning drug trade. It has also targeted a handful of officials with asset freezes and visa bans for engaging in political violence and acts of public corruption. Leading the charge would only validate Maduro's anti-Yanqui narrative, so the U.S. should quietly make clear that there's plenty of room left on the targeted sanctions list and that it will publicize credible information of corruption, criminality and abuse.

The good news is that support for Chavismo is crumbling both from without and within. The U.S. opening to Cuba has erased a once-popular leftist talking point. Argentina's changed leadership has stepped up criticism of Venezuela, which may lose another friend if Brazil's Workers' Party loses power.

Venezuelans are right to hold Maduro responsible for his economic mismanagement, which has resulted in blackouts, two-day government workweeks and life-threatening shortages of medicines. But kicking the president out of office will not by itself end Venezuela's economic hardship and political dysfunction. That will also require getting the military out of business and back into its barracks.