How loud will oil speak?
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Venezuela is yet again ranked the world’s most miserable country. For two years running, it has topped the Misery Index, a figure computed on inflation, growth, interest rates and unemployment. While this may sound alarming, there is an even more frightening aspect of the Venezuelan cataclysm that this index doesn't avow: violence and its intimidating rise.
For what concerns the current economic shape of the country, it is inevitable to say that Venezuela is the ultimate embodiment of a missed opportunity.
During his mandate from 1999 to 2013, former President Hugo Chávez presided over the highest oil price in recent history. The unprecedented arrival of petrodollars granted him control over an amount of money that exceeded the total income of the Venezuelan revenue-system since the country’s independence in the early 19th Century. During the highpoint of the oil barrel, the national budget was designed at $50 per barrel, and we were selling it well over $100.
What happened to that surplus? Four things. First, most of the income was spent on propaganda campaigns. Second, those in charge of the government took good care of their personal bank accounts. Third, it was unsoundly spent in ultra-populist measures of dependency to ensure a steadfast voting base. Fourth, it was used to purchase the conscience of leaders around the world and gain support for the plutocracy disguised as a popular revolution.
This year, Venezuela is projected to have a negative growth of seven percent.
Certainly, the recent decline in oil prices exacerbates Venezuelan suffering, because the country depends on oil sales to buy food, medicine and basic provisions. It is an economy that imports almost the entirety of its consumption, and has no say over the international price of oil.
Yet, production, which is under complete control of the government, has declined by a third. So, in reality, the plundering price of the barrel is only adding to self-inflicted wounds.
For what concerns violence, numbers have increased by 500 percent: in 1998, the country suffered 5,000 violent deaths, and in 2014, this figure reached a peak of 25,000.
It is evident that Venezuela has held its miserable position because a bad situation has become dreadful. And rather than changing gears, the government has declared it lawful to use deadly force against protesters. It escalated its campaign to imprison political leaders and torture dissidents, and it granted emergency powers to an executive duo whose only priority is to remain in power.
In its blind pursuit to stay in control, the Chavista establishment has gradually adopted a policy of committing crimes against humanity. These crimes, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, “are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of human beings”.
Leaders in the international community who remain silent in the face of such an oppression are not to be defined neutral. They are siding and condoning the oppressor. Failing to fulfill the Responsibility to Protect (R2P), an international norm to address the international community’s failure to stop genocides and other crimes, might never get to be judged in a court of law, but history will be unforgiving. It will be so because the university students who were punished for committing thought-crimes will never forget who did what and who remained silent.
Oil may speak loud enough to buy the conscience of foreign leaders but it will never hush the voices of those who will go on to narrate history.
Those who feel inclined to talk wonders about Chavismo, the left-wing political ideology based on the ideas and government style of Chávez, are invited to visit the hospitals in which patients die due to medical supplies shortages and to observe the consequences of such precarious economic management on social welfare and stability, especially considering the prosperity the entire country could have enjoyed benefiting from the profits the oil business was mounting a few years back.
Unfortunately, the alarming inequality yielded by the current policy of distributing scarcity is overshadowed by the decline in oil prices.
While bank accounts of Chávez’s party members grow bigger, the rest of Venezuelans go hungry. But not even the producers of this tragedy might be capable of sustaining it. People are becoming more and more aware of the unfair management of resources and the political opportunism that drove them into misery while they could have enjoyed the treasures that only oil can bring. Political doublespeak will not be enough to free 30 million people from want.
While oil can drown the international community, it won't shut the voice of young university students who are willing to fight for the fairness and equality their country and their people deserve.
To the observation that the price of the Chavista revolution’s survival appears to be the slow death of Venezuela, I offer my most profound rejection.
cartoon credit: Cetrading Export website