A glimmer of hope in Venezuela
The news in our country and abroad has been relentlessly bad ever since we entered the calamitous Biden Era just months ago, but there are a few hopeful signs out there still.
One of the best is a story receiving almost no coverage in the larger press: the Venezuela elections this November. The democratic opposition has agreed to participate after years of boycotting the Maduro regime's rigged voting. The E.U. will send a large team of election monitors, and Maduro has already been releasing some political prisoners in a bid to end sanctions. Some are even predicting that Maduro will be willing to retire from office at the end of his current term in 2024.
Why the possible change of heart by the dictator? For one, the economy is still a wreck. The Bolivar is worthless, and most people have simply moved to dollars, denying the government its ability to buy support. Petroleum exports, which once made this a rich country, have crashed. It will take billions of dollars of Western investment and know-how in the oil sector to revive it, and that won't happen with the present government. In short, it's no fun being dictator of this place anymore.
Also, unlike a Putin or Xi, Maduro as yet does not have a lot of blood on his hands. He is reasonably confident he could step away and enjoy his Swiss bank accounts without much hassle, in the tradition of Latin American caudillos left and right. And contrary to his mentor, Hugo Chávez, Maduro may at heart not be such a fanatical lefty. He started his career as a bus driver and union organizer, and it's often speculated his second wife Cilia is more the scolding ideologue in the family. Leaving the Presidential Palace is one way to get this termagant off his back.
There is a long way to go still, but if democracy returns to Venezuela, it would a have a salubrious effect on the rest of the hemisphere — perhaps even leading to changes in the last Marxist holdout, Cuba.
Stranger things have happened. Gamal Nasser and his violent Arab nationalist movement brought ruin across the Middle East for decades, yet his chosen successor, Anwar Sadat, wound up making peace, kicking out the Soviets, and changing history much for the better.
If Maduro were to essentially throw in the towel, it would also tell us a lot about the actual power of Red China. Back in the day, the Soviets had real cash to throw around and subsidize their global ambitions. They could truly buy off whole countries. Xi, and Putin, for that matter, really don't have that kind of juice. They still trade with Venezuela, but it's a one-sided barter system that sucks up what's left of the oil. No meaningful investment is coming.
Just as with China's once ballyhooed road projects in Pakistan or the failed copper mines in Afghanistan, they are not proving to be much of an ally to anyone. Their P.R. skills are a lot greater than their financial and management talents for big overseas projects. Maduro must have long ago concluded that Xi is nothing but a Marxist loan shark.
That also tells us something about China's real intentions in the dangerously weak Biden Era. Expect a lot of posturing but maybe no real adventures. Certainly nothing so reckless as an attack on Taiwan, which would likely be a military disaster of epic proportions for Red China.
Perhaps the most optimistic part of the current negotiations in Venezuela is that they are being led by Norway and Barbados. No sign of Joe Biden's clown show getting involved so far. So nobody wake him up on this one.
Frank Friday is an attorney in Louisville Ky.
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