Time To Stop The Crying Game In Venezuela – And Start The Waiting Game
A YouTube video has become a tear-jerker hit among opponents of Venezuela’s socialist government.
An unidentified young woman stands up in a Caracas metro car and screams at fellow passengers. Wearing a T-shirt that says, “He who rests loses,” she rails for a good five minutes at the authoritarian shambles Venezuela has become under the Bolivarian Revolution the late Hugo Chávez began 15 years ago.
“I can’t find chicken for my children. I can’t find milk!” she yells. “The gangs and the National Guard are killing us!”
Then she collapses, sobbing, on someone’s shoulder.
It’s moving. It’s jolting. It’s passionate. It’s provocative.
And it won’t do a single thing to change the situation in Venezuela.
After President Nicolás Maduro’s speech Tuesday night, things are likely to get even worse. Addressing the nation from somewhere in Chavista outer space, Maduro declared so many new social revolutions for Venezuela – five of them – he just didn’t have time to bring up the five-alarm fire burning Venezuela’s economy to the ground: currency chaos, 61 percent inflation and chronic shortages of, oh yeah, chicken and milk.
And the only guy in Maduro’s government holding a fire hose, Rafael Ramírez, got a presidential kick in the groin. Ramírez, the economic vice president, energy minister and head of the state-owned oil monopoly, PDVSA, was demoted to foreign minister. The unspoken reason: he dared suggest reality as one way to contain the blaze, such as reducing the massive subsidy that keeps gasoline in Venezuela at an absurd five cents a gallon.
So the nation that possesses the world’s largest oil reserves continues its dive into South America’s worst economic and public security crisis. And there’s not a thing that anyone – not the opposition in Venezuela, the expats here in Doral and Weston or the young lady on the metro – can do about it. Except this:
For Venezuela's opposition, the waiting game also means doing something politically productive for a change.
Stop playing the crying game, and start playing the waiting game.
The crying game – from individual outbursts like the metro video to group fury like this year’s failed street protests – won’t topple the Chavista regime. That’s because it can count on its base of poor voters who still benefit from populist government spending.
For now. Once upon a time that largesse did reduce poverty in Venezuela. But today, especially with the country’s once prodigious oil industry a wreck, it’s a fiscal hemorrhage. It will eventually empty the populist piñata, siphon off what petty cash is left in Venezuela’s central bank and drain the poor of their loyalty to Chavismo.
Unless Maduro changes policy course. Which he made clear Tuesday he won’t do.
Hence the waiting game. But that doesn’t mean idly standing by. For Venezuela’s political opposition, it means doing something politically productive for a change in preparation for the moment when the electoral balance finally tilts their way.
It means fewer street barricades and more campaign platforms leading up to parliamentary elections in December 2015 – or a possible referendum to recall Maduro in 2016. It means less sifrino (preppy) arrogance and more genuine empathy for the barrio laborers and rural campesinos who still cling to Chavismo.
Start with oil policy. Venezuela’s hoi polloi aren’t stupid; they know how badly Chavismo has reduced the output and upkeep of PDVSA, which accounts for an inexcusable 97 percent of the country’s export earnings. Because the company has become more social welfare agency than oil production firm, it re-invests only 1 percent of its revenues compared to more than 3 percent for most petro-giants.
Venezuela's hoi polloi aren't stupid; they know how badly Chavismo has reduced the output and upkeep of PDVSA, which accounts for an inexcusable 97 percent of the country's export earnings.
But here’s the other bottom line: Venezuela’s poor remember all too well that before Chávez – when the barrels of crude pumped at high-performing PDVSA wells surpassed even the glasses of Scotch poured at high-society Caracas weddings – a kleptocratic elite was pillaging the oil wealth and leaving half the nation in poverty.
The poor don’t only want to hear how the opposition will resurrect PDVSA. They also want assurances they won’t get screwed again when it does.
That’s the kind of street-level politicking opposition leader Henrique Capriles was practicing last year when he almost defeated Maduro in the special election to succeed Chávez. But today, too many anti-Chavistas scorn Capriles because he doesn’t throw Molotov cocktails. Or scream between metro stops.
Yes, I’m all too aware that the Chavistas have to a large extent rigged the electoral process against the opposition. And I know that military-minded Chavista leaders like National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello will be tempted to put tanks in the street rather than let the opposition regain Miraflores, the presidential palace.
But if, or when, their base abandons them, they won’t be able to hold on for long. Unless Maduro leaves his parallel universe and returns to policy Earth, opposition patience will probably be rewarded.
And so will quieter metro rides.
Tim Padgett is WLRN's Americas editor. You can read more of his coverage here.