Scott Gilmore on why Canada should do more for Venezuela

Security forces clash with people trying to reach Miraflores presidential palace to protest against the severe food and medicine shortages, in Caracas on June 2, 2016. Venezuelans face long lines at supermarkets tightly guarded by nervous soldiers, bare shelves and soaring prices inside, a dysfunctional health care system short on basic medications and supplies, daily power cuts of four hours across most of the country, and a government that only operates two days a week to save electricity. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Security forces clash with people trying to reach Miraflores presidential palace to protest against the severe food and medicine shortages, in Caracas on June 2, 2016.
Venezuelans face long lines at supermarkets tightly guarded by nervous soldiers, bare shelves and soaring prices inside, a dysfunctional health care system short on basic medications and supplies, daily power cuts of four hours across most of the country, and a government that only operates two days a week to save electricity. (Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)


We like to think that progress is irreversible. We look at our roads and supermarkets and hospitals and while we know that everything could be better, we rarely worry it will all collapse. Unhappily, right now Venezuela is proving that all of this can suddenly disappear, and it’s frightening.
The country is falling apart, rapidly and completely. By many measures, it is one of the most blessed nations in the Americas. It has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, almost twice Canada’s. It has rich agricultural land, incredible biodiversity and huge amounts of mineral wealth. And yet its people are now starving; its infrastructure is in tatters; law and order have broken down. And strangely, Canada doesn’t appear to care.
In the late 1990s, after a string of corruption scandals, a disillusioned populace turned away from the two main traditional political parties and elected the populist demagogue Hugo Chávez. The ensuing “Bolivarian Revolution” completely rewired the Venezuelan constitution and economy.
Industries were nationalized. Price controls were implemented. Farmland was expropriated. The currency was devalued. As a result, not surprisingly, the economy completely collapsed. At the same time, its democratic institutions were also assaulted. Human rights abuses multiplied, elections were fixed and political opponents were jailed. The slide into chaos continued after Chávez’s death in 2013 when his successor, Nicolás Maduro, doubled down on the same policies.
Now, drought has effectively shut off hydroelectric power. The drop in oil prices has decimated government revenues—it can no longer afford to keep its offices open for even three days a week. Unemployment is endemic. Hospitals have run out of medicine, equipment, even bed sheets. There are food riots in the streets, a state of emergency has been declared, and the military is being mobilized to prevent further rioting.
There is no indication that Maduro will back down and institute economic or political reforms. He continues to blame Venezuela’s troubles on either international conspiracies or his political opponents. Legislation passed by the opposition-controlled congress is either blocked by loyalists in the Maduro-appointed judiciary or simply ignored by the president and the bureaucracy.
And there’s not much anyone can do about it. One of the only successes of the Bolivarian Revolution was to insulate Caracas from outside pressure. The international community has few levers to pull that would force Maduro to moderate his political or economic abuses.
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