Venezuela: Always a bad sign when your military deserts

One of the most vivid lectures I remember from studying the Russian Revolution during my junior year abroad at St. Antony's College, at Oxford, was the one on what sealed the tsar of Russia's fate.  My superb tutor and lecturer, Dr. Harold Shukman, said it was the scene in St. Petersburg, where the rather insufficiently studied photos of the era showed thousands of troops, thousands, hanging around, idle, doing nothing.  They were deserters, and their choice to walk away showed the extent of just how far the tsar was gone as a force of government.  This scene became the tinder and backdrop of the October Revolution of 1917.

More than a century later, half a world away in the tropics, and this time under a Soviet-derived socialism, a similar picture is forming, in Venezuela.  According to Bloomberg:

Military officers are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro's government to call upon retirees and militia to fill the void.

High desertion rates at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days, which by law require military custody of electoral materials and machinery at voting centers.

"The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette.  Now, it is not," said Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas.  She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: "Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn't good."

Seems that 18,000% inflation rate reported a few days ago (another study has it at 13,779%) is having an effect on soldiers' pay, the money is effectively worthless, and hungry soldiers are not happy soldiers.  Bloomberg reports that many, rather than revolting, are just fleeing abroad.

The same has also been reported of Venezuela's oil workers, who aren't being paid in any currency of value.  Oil is the source of 90% of Venezuela's export earnings and probably 100% of the government's financing.  The government, of course, is in default.  It has attempted to fix that by replacing its oil workers with...soldiers.

Obviously, that hasn't worked.

Yet the regime still clings to power, despite this obvious catastrophe.  When the money is worth nothing, utterly nothing, let's put it this way: other regimes have not held on.  Why would anyone stay?  Perhaps because they are not being paid in the local toilet paper money.  If so, it would mean they are being paid in dollars, and the only thing that could bring that is the drug trade.  Perhaps the narco-war is the final frontier in the dislodging of this regime.  But I suspect there aren't enough narco-dollars to keep the entire economy afloat.

I know we have been calling the end of the Venezuelan regime many times over, and it hasn't happened.  But the desertion of an army over hyperinflation doesn't seem to have precedent for success.  Regimes that ruin their money (think Serbia, Zimbabwe, Weimar Germany, Allende Chile) eventually get dislodged; it never happens that they recover on their own.  What follows from it is the next matter.  A regime can't last if it ruins its money.

One of the most vivid lectures I remember from studying the Russian Revolution during my junior year abroad at St. Antony's College, at Oxford, was the one on what sealed the tsar of Russia's fate.  My superb tutor and lecturer, Dr. Harold Shukman, said it was the scene in St. Petersburg, where the rather insufficiently studied photos of the era showed thousands of troops, thousands, hanging around, idle, doing nothing.  They were deserters, and their choice to walk away showed the extent of just how far the tsar was gone as a force of government.  This scene became the tinder and backdrop of the October Revolution of 1917.

More than a century later, half a world away in the tropics, and this time under a Soviet-derived socialism, a similar picture is forming, in Venezuela.  According to Bloomberg:

Military officers are joining the exodus of Venezuelans to Colombia and Brazil, fleeing barracks and forcing President Nicolas Maduro's government to call upon retirees and militia to fill the void.

High desertion rates at bases in Caracas and the countryside are complicating security plans for the presidential election in 13 days, which by law require military custody of electoral materials and machinery at voting centers.

"The number is unknown because it used to be published in the Official Gazette.  Now, it is not," said Rocio San Miguel, director of Control Ciudadano, a military watchdog group in Caracas.  She said soldiers are fleeing for the same reason citizens are: "Wages are low, the quality of food and clothing isn't good."

Seems that 18,000% inflation rate reported a few days ago (another study has it at 13,779%) is having an effect on soldiers' pay, the money is effectively worthless, and hungry soldiers are not happy soldiers.  Bloomberg reports that many, rather than revolting, are just fleeing abroad.

The same has also been reported of Venezuela's oil workers, who aren't being paid in any currency of value.  Oil is the source of 90% of Venezuela's export earnings and probably 100% of the government's financing.  The government, of course, is in default.  It has attempted to fix that by replacing its oil workers with...soldiers.

Obviously, that hasn't worked.

Yet the regime still clings to power, despite this obvious catastrophe.  When the money is worth nothing, utterly nothing, let's put it this way: other regimes have not held on.  Why would anyone stay?  Perhaps because they are not being paid in the local toilet paper money.  If so, it would mean they are being paid in dollars, and the only thing that could bring that is the drug trade.  Perhaps the narco-war is the final frontier in the dislodging of this regime.  But I suspect there aren't enough narco-dollars to keep the entire economy afloat.

I know we have been calling the end of the Venezuelan regime many times over, and it hasn't happened.  But the desertion of an army over hyperinflation doesn't seem to have precedent for success.  Regimes that ruin their money (think Serbia, Zimbabwe, Weimar Germany, Allende Chile) eventually get dislodged; it never happens that they recover on their own.  What follows from it is the next matter.  A regime can't last if it ruins its money.