Never Saw It Coming

Before we head Down The Rabbit Hole we have a couple of items to get to.Back in November we had the regional and local elections in Venezuela which,to nobody’s surprise were won,for the most part, by the Chavistas.The one real surprise was the governor’s race in the birthplace of Hugo Chavez,Barinas,a Chavista stronghold since 1998.The opposition candidate won in a hotly contested race which the Chavistas had assumed they would win simply because they always had.They never saw it coming.

 In true Chavista form they wasted no time in getting the opposition victory disallowed and the most likely replacement candidates disqualified. This set up a likely PSUV (Chavista) victory in the January revote.

 Prensa Latina reported that in the weeks leading up to the election gasoline tankers and water trucks were seen everywhere in an attempt to temporarily relieve the chronic gas and water shortages.Maybe the voters would think things really were getting better. Along with the usual intimidation of the Chavismo machine they would leave nothing to chance.They would not be blindsided twice.

 I,like most people, was pretty sure we would be discussing the PSUV victory today,albeit a possibly narrow one.I gotta’ say,I never saw it coming. Digital Journal reports that opposition candidate,Sergio Garrido, has won the governor’s race over PSUV candidate,Jorge Arreaza. The turnout was relatively high,given the much publicized apathy towards politics in Venezuela these days.And it wasn’t even close. The opposition came in with 55% of the vote versus 41% for PSUV.

 A couple of kudos are in order.One to CNE (electoral council) for not cooking the books and a second to the Venezuelan people in Barinas for showing up and voicing their displeasure with Chavismo.But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Chavismo still won 19 of 23 governor’s races and they will now appoint a “Protector of the People” in Barinas,as well as in each state carried by the opposition.Remember the “Protectors”? That’s the position created by the Chavistas (without regard to the constitution) to divert the power of the governor’s office to a Chavista. The real power in each opposition won state will still reside with Chavismo. While this victory is mostly symbolic let’s savor the moment,at least for today.

 And in another sign of progress we have Daily Mail reporting the opening of a Starbucks in Caracas. OK, so it’s a fake Starbucks, not affiliated with the real guys from Seattle, but in Venezuela you take what you can get,

 Then we have reporting that a group of PDVSA (national oil company) pensioners will receive a bonus of 2 Petros each. The question is, how will it really be paid? If it’s converted into dollars at the much publicized rate of $60 per Petro it will be $120, a nice chunk of change in a country where the minimum wage is under 2 bucks a month. Or will it be paid in bolivares, a whole different story? Time will tell.

 Time to head Down The Rabbit Hole….

 Unfortunately for the Venezuelans the situation received very little international coverage.At the same time this was happening the Russians annexed The Crimea so the focus of the world was thousands of miles away.

 Over the next year or so stories surfaced about the lack of food and medicine as well as the human rights violations so then President Obama initiated the first sanctions. They targeted individuals and were meant to get Maduro to address the situation. In keeping with his M. O. Maduro denied the humanitarian problem, blamed the dead and wounded in the demonstrations on right wing conspiracy and US imperialism and did nothing for the Venezuelan people.

 When Donald Trump became president he continued the sanctions and added more and more individuals over a two year period in an attempt to get Maduro to change course and care for his people. The result was the same, more bluster and denial, and Venezuelans continued to die.

 In 2017 tensions boiled over and another round of mass protests erupted.The repression ratcheted up and 140 were killed, more than 1,500 wounded, and thousands arrested.This time the world was distracted by North Korea firing missiles so Venezuela was a secondary issue. Conditions stayed the same for the Venezuelan people. The only change in behavior for the government was they finally defaulted on some of their bonds as the government was, for all intents and purposes, going broke. Due to oil revenues there was cash flow.There were also a number of countries and international organizations offering help for the Venezuelan people. Maduro still refused to do anything for his people, just more denial and bluster.

 With the individual sanctions having no effect on Maduro’s behavior the US, sensing the time was right due to selective bond defaults,sanctioned the bond market so the government couldn’t issue new debt and added more individuals to the sanctions list.The cash flow was still there as were the offers of humanitarian aid but Maduro continued to ignore the needs of his people.

 The outflow of migrants which had been steadily increasing became a tsunami, and for good reason.The situation for the Venezuelan people continued to deteriorate. In typical Venezuelan humor they called it “the Maduro diet” with the average Venezuelan losing about 20 pounds.Over the next year and a half over three million Venezuelans would leave.

 The sanctions kept ratcheting up now including more individuals and the banking sector.It was a measured approach designed to have an effect on the Chavistas and their irresponsible behavior while minimizing the effect on the general population. At each step along the way Maduro steadfastly refused to do anything for the people of Venezuela and they continued to die in ever increasing numbers.

 More tomorrow….

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