Opinion: Caracas ≠ Crimea?

If you were to turn on just about any news channel right now, the main story would be the ongoing standoff in the Crimea region of Ukraine.  At the moment Russian troops are occupying Crimea and this week there is a referendum which will hopefully put an end to all the tension.  According to the media, the situation in Crimea is clearly the most important event in the world right now.  However, even before the protests in Ukraine and the Russian invasion of Crimea, there was great unrest in Venezuela.  This unrest in Venezuela was severely underreported by the media who instead decided to focus on protests in Kiev (which would lead to the situation in Crimea).  Why is it that the media is so obsessed with the state of affairs in the global north?  Why is it that events in the global south are constantly belittled and never prioritized?

Just like in Ukraine, people in Venezuela have died as they fight for their freedom.  On February 12th protests began in Caracas after much discontent over rampant crime, a lack of toilet paper, food shortages, oil imports, and frequent power outages.  Considering that Venezuela is an OPEC member and has the world’s largest oil reserves, it is outrageous that the country is importing oil and cannot power its own electric grid.  Considering the importance of Venezuela in world energy markets it is incredibly irresponsible that Western media outlets have not paid more attention to unrest in the country.

1304 venezuela (crop)

According to Nicolas Lorris of The Heritage Foundation (a Washington D.C. conservative think tank), “Venezuela, as a key contributor to the global energy market, can have a significant effect on the markets if these protests cause a supply disruption.  Global markets can and do affect energy markets here at home (the U.S.).”

When asked about the situation in Venezuela, Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Institute (a Washington D.C. libertarian think tank) opined that while he thought events in Crimea were more important he did say, “While the situation in Venezuela is serious, Washington D.C. has its hands tied and cannot make much of a constructive contribution.

“One of the central pillars of Latin American populism in the 21st century is anti-Americanism.  The U.S. is the bogeyman of choice for Latin American populist leaders and the US is frequently blamed for unrest, inflation, any many other problems.

“If the Obama Administration were more active in condemning Venezuela, this would actually prove helpful to the Maduro regime.  It would legitimize Maduro’s ludicrous claims that the Venezuelan protests are U.S.-led and financed.

“There have been talks of individual, targeted sanctions on Venezuelan government officials and the revoking of U.S. visas – these are good measures that the Obama Administration should go ahead with.  However beyond that, there is not much the US can or should do.

“The bulk of the responsibility of dealing with the Venezuela situation falls on the shoulders of Latin American leaders who are silent in a manner that is either cowardly or complicit.”

However when speaking with Ana Quintana of The Heritage Foundation, more U.S. involvement seems to be the answer, “The Obama Administration should send a clear message of solidarity to the democratic opposition.  President Obama should make it clear that political repression and gross violations of human rights will not be tolerated.

“It should have been the U.S. and not Panama that asked to convene a special meeting of the Organization of American States to deal with Venezuela.  Targeted sanctions against Venezuelan officials should be implemented immediately and the U.S. visas of those officials should be revoked.”

It seems to me that the Obama Administration has not grasped the importance of Venezuela and its role in Latin America.  It is due to the leadership of Hugo Chavez that Bolivia, Ecuador, and Argentina have all embraced socialist leaders who have no understanding of economics or how to run a business.  As Ana Quintana rightly pointed out in our interview, “the leadership of Hugo Chavez has undone many Cold War gains in the region”.  Another factor worth noting is that Venezuela is the fourth-largest exporter of petroleum to the United States however that does not seem to matter much to the Obama Administration which seems to despise an “all of the above” energy strategy.  This disdain for multiple energy sources has been made clear by a refusal to sign off on the Keystone XL pipeline and the fact that the hydraulic fracturing boom has occurred on private land, not government land.

The events in Venezuela are worth paying attention to.  Just as dictatorship cannot be ignored in Europe, it should not be ignored in Latin America either.  A challenge to democracy on the Western Hemisphere should be of grave concern to the Obama Administration, alas it appears to merely be a nuisance to the White House.  Many Chavez/Maduro apologists among the elites in certain circles of the ivory tower point to legitimacy through the ballot box and the redistribution of wealth.  There is more to democracy than Election Day and cutting the pie into smaller pieces is worthless when you can always grow the pie.  However perhaps I am wrong since I have not signed on to the Socialist definition of a democracy.  Instead, all I have are two eyes which see peaceful protesters shot to death by the forces of an illegitimate government which claims to defend and protect the aforementioned protesters.    Therefore who is to say which of us is right?  At a minimum, targeted sanctions are needed immediately and President Obama must privately urge Latin American leaders to ask Dictator Maduro to call for elections.

The following immortal words written by Lord Tennyson (I find it fitting to end the piece with the words of a man who witnessed violence in Crimea) in his poem Ulysses almost two centuries ago could be seen as dedicated to Venezuela.  When Simon Bolivar liberated Latin America, he projected strength, the sort of strength which very few leaders have ever possessed.  Bolivar ripped the shackles of colonialism off his people and empowered them lead lives of dignity.  For a leader in the 19th century to care more about the good of his people rather than his own private gains was incredible and undoubtedly moved earth and heaven.  Nowadays the Venezuelan people are led by a self-serving tyrant whose cowardice disguised by oppression is on display each day as he murders his own people, the heroes of Venezuela who at the moment are trying to liberate one of Bolivar’s descendants, Leopoldo Lopez.  Hopefully what is happening right now in Venezuela is the end of a dark chapter in the history of a great country.

We are not now that strength which in old days

Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are –

One equal temper of heroic hearts,

Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will

To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.