Venezuela's Revolution May Be Fracturing – But So Is Its 'Preppy' Opposition
Let’s make one thing crystal clear: Rafael Ramírez is no hero. Venezuela’s former oil czar is almost as complicit in the country’s economic and democratic ruin as President Nicolás Maduro is.
Still, Ramírez’s blistering New Year’s Eve attack against Maduro on the leftist opinion website Aporrea – in which he calls Venezuela’s dictatorial loon-in-chief an “arrogant and blind King Herod” – is a fascinating read. And an important one, given the omnipotent figure Ramírez once cut in Venezuela’s socialist revolution. Maybe even a hopeful one. The digital diatribe might (repeat, might) signal the kind of fissures inside the disastrous left-wing regime that could eventually lead to its crack-up.
It’s just too bad Venezuela’s political opposition itself is too dysfunctional right now to take advantage of the regime’s internecine feuding.
More on that later. But first the Ramírez ruckus.
Venezuela’s economic meltdown – the world’s worst today, featuring depression, hyperinflation and humanitarian crisis – has three causes. One is the collapsed price of oil, a commodity that accounts for an inexcusable 96 percent of the country’s export revenue. A second is the criminal pillaging of that oil wealth by the revolution’s elites.
But the most important is epic socialist incompetence, the clueless belief that you can ignore market realities, control prices, crush enterprise, spend like a drunken sailor – and not see your macro-finances sink like the Titanic.
Ramirez's digital diatribe against Maduro is important. It's just too bad Venezuela's political opposition itself is too dysfunctional right now to take advantage of the regime's internecine feuding.
Ramírez is one of the few revolutionary kingpins who knows better. Unlike Maduro and the other Marxist pamphleteers, he understands business, something that’s always come across in my own past conversations with him. It’s why the revolution’s founder, the late President Hugo Chávez, put him in charge of Venezuela’s oil industry back in the 2000s.
Those were the días dorados, the golden days when oil was well above $100 a barrel and Chávez was Latin America’s sugar daddy. Then it all went south. And when Chávez died in 2013 he was succeeded by Maduro – who instead of reining in the catastrophic socialist policies doubled down on them.
When Ramírez pointed out Maduro’s idiocy, Maduro busted him down from oil boss to U.N. ambassador. Last month, after Maduro accused Ramírez of corruption and ordered his resignation, Ramírez published the Aporrea broadside – reportedly from hiding in Ecuador.
In it, Ramírez excoriates Maduro for Venezuela’s “economic chaos,” accuses him of enriching himself and his cronies, trashing the Constitution and essentially starving the population.
“You have brought our people to an unimaginable level of suffering and humiliation,” Ramírez wrote. “You are killing the revolution.”
But Ramírez is being a lot more disingenuous than decent. For all his business sense, he was also a committed Chávez acolyte – and he gladly took part in the destruction of Venezuela’s state-run oil firm, PDVSA, by turning it into a cesspool of political employment. A place where the red shirts and berets you wore mattered more than the oil training and experience you brought.
Ramírez’s concerns about Venezuela’s suffering pueblo also ring a tad hollow given his reputation, as chronicled recently in the Wall Street Journal, for ordering $3,500 bottles of Scotch.
Still, Ramírez surely isn’t alone among regime poobahs, and his grousing is surely shared, if only privately, by some senior military officials – the guys who are keeping Maduro and the socialists in power. As Venezuela’s economic nightmare worsens – and as a massive foreign debt default looks more imminent – Maduro may find it harder to keep even them on his side.
But if and when a fractured Venezuelan revolution does break up, there doesn’t look to be much of a unified Venezuelan opposition left to do anything about it. Maduro’s opponents rang in the New Year this week with another display of divisive incompetence: Middle-class opposition militants in eastern Caracas took to social media to ridicule those in the capital’s impoverished western barrios for protesting a lack of pernil, holiday pork leg, instead of a lack of democracy.
It turns out the barrio activists were actually demonstrating against Venezuela’s chronic lack of food in general – and they fired back by going on Twitter to call their more affluent detractors "sifrinos," spoiled preppies. Once again the opposition’s sifrinos had alienated the poorer Venezuelans they need to unite with.
And that makes them complicit in Venezuela’s ruin, too.