FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Refrigerator Wars in Venezuela

by CHRIS GILBERT

Caracas.

The Venezuelan state is intervening in different retail businesses around the country, principally those that trade in domestic appliances. This apparently modest decision, taken a week ago, has set in motion an interesting process of push and pull. Long lines outside the intervened stores and some disorder inside meet with predictable outcry about “mobs” and “communism” from the counterrevolutionary press.

The effects of this whole process – some anticipated, others not – make for a complicated situation. In fact, it is impossible to predict how it will play out. Yet one thing is clear: President Nicolás Maduro, after months of passivity, vacillation, and concessions has finally gone on the offensive.

The core decision is to limit the markup on certain products imported with subsidized dollars. Importers in Venezuela bring in goods with cheap dollars that they obtain through the state – dollars that come from the petroleum rent. They then mark up the goods 200% to 1000%. The government’s idea is to limit the markup to 30%. For this reason, state institutions such as INDEPABIS are now revising these importers’ books, while the army maintains order.

To some this might seem ridiculous. Whereas the Russians stormed the Winter Palace, the Venezuelans took over the refrigerators and televisions! Yet it should be remembered that the U.S. independence process began with similar skirmishes over consumer goods. Moreover, the nature of the Venezuelan economy makes commerce rather than industrial production the key area for the distribution of wealth.

Then there is the historical moment in Venezuela. Class struggle over the past twelve years of the Bolivarian process often has taken on a leap-frog character. Every time the bourgeoisie raised prices, Hugo Chávez would respond by raising salaries. Now the government does not have funds to respond with this bonapartist tactic which leaves all social classes with something. It has to transfer wealth in another way.

The new measures are likely to define Chavism more along class lines, provoking defections of middle-class sympathizers while making more profound the allegiance of the lower classes. Already some wavering Chavists have echoed the bourgeoisie’s doubts about the correctness and decency of these popular actions.

Of course their response is in part conditioned by historical memory. Nearly 25 years ago, Venezuelans reacted to a neoliberal austerity package with country-wide rebellion and looting. This became known as the Caracazo. Now it might seem that a “slow-motion Caracazo” is taking place, but it should be remembered that the problem with the Caracazo of 1989 was not the transfer of wealth through looting but its lack of direction and the severe repression that followed. An ordered Caracazo, a Caracazo with political consciousness might be… a revolution.

At the very least it is a profound learning process. At present the masses feel they are participating directly in the economy. Everywhere in the streets there are discussions among ordinary people about the “rate of profit,” “the petroleum rent,” and “the parasitic bourgeoisie.” On top of that, morale has never been so high in the period following Chávez’s death. The key will be directing these energies toward a deepening of the process and planning so that mass activities extend beyond the upcoming municipal elections on December 8.

In the most positive scenario, resistance from the commercial sector will lead to a domino effect in which importers of other types of goods, such as food and clothing, will be also brought under supervision. Venezuela’s system of importation delivers billions of subsidized dollars every year to thousands of private importers. Then the government hopes vainly that they will actually import products and sell them at reasonable prices. This is deeply irrational and any step towards centralization, even if it simply limits the number of possibly corrupt importers, is a positive one.

Chris Gilbert is professor of Political Science at the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.

Chris Gilbert is professor of political science in the Universidad Bolivariana de Venezuela.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

August 31, 2016
NEVE GORDON - NICOLA PERUGINI
Human Shields as Preemptive Legal Defense for Killing Civilians
Jim Kavanagh
Turkey Invades Syria, America Spins The Bottle
Dave Lindorff
Ukraine and the Dumbed-Down New York Times Columnist
Pepe Escobar
Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, a Woman of Honor, Confronts Senate of Scoundrels
Jeff Mackler
Playing the Lesser Evil Game to the Hilt
Steve Horn
Dakota Access Pipeline Tribal Liaison Formerly Worked For Agency Issuing Permit
Patrick Cockburn
Has Turkey Overplayed Its Hand in Syria?
John Chuckman
Why Hillary is the Perfect Person to Secure Obama’s Legacy
Manuel E. Yepe
The New Cold War Between the US and China
Stephen Cooper
Ending California’s Machinery of Death
Stacy Keltner - Ashley McFarland
Women, Party Politics, and the Power of the Naked Body
Hiroyuki Hamada - Ikuko Isa
A Letter from Takae, Okinawa
Aidan O'Brien
How Did Syria and the Rest Do in the Olympics?
David Swanson
Arms Dealing Is Subject of Hollywood Comedy
Jesse Jackson
The Politics of Bigotry: Trump and the Black Voter
August 30, 2016
Russell Mokhiber
Matt Funiciello and the Giant Sucking Sound Coming Off Lake Champlain
Mike Whitney
Three Cheers for Kaepernick: Is Sitting During the National Anthem an Acceptable Form of Protest?
Alice Bach
Sorrow and Grace in Palestine
Sam Husseini
Why We Should All Remain Seated: the Anti-Muslim Origins of “The Star-Spangled Banner”
Richard Moser
Transformative Movement Culture and the Inside/Outside Strategy: Do We Want to Win the Argument or Build the Movement?
Nozomi Hayase
Pathology, Incorporated: the Facade of American Democracy
David Swanson
Fredric Jameson’s War Machine
Jan Oberg
How Did the West Survive a Much Stronger Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact?
Linda Gunter
The Racism of the Nagasaki and Hiroshima Bombings
Dmitry Kovalevich
In Ukraine: Independence From the People
Omar Kassem
Turkey Breaks Out in Jarablus as Fear and Loathing Grip Europe
George Wuerthner
A Birthday Gift to the National Parks: the Maine Woods National Monument
Logan Glitterbomb
Indigenous Property Rights and the Dakota Access Pipeline
National Lawyers Guild
Solidarity with Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against Dakota Access Pipeline
Paul Messersmith-Glavin
100 in Anarchist Years
August 29, 2016
Eric Draitser
Hillary and the Clinton Foundation: Exemplars of America’s Political Rot
Patrick Timmons
Dildos on Campus, Gun in the Library: the New York Times and the Texas Gun War
Jack Rasmus
Bernie Sanders ‘OR’ Revolution: a Statement or a Question?
Richard Moser
Strategic Choreography and Inside/Outside Organizers
Nigel Clarke
President Obama’s “Now Watch This Drive” Moment
Robert Fisk
Iraq’s Willing Executioners
Wahid Azal
The Banality of Evil and the Ivory Tower Masterminds of the 1953 Coup d’Etat in Iran
Farzana Versey
Romancing the Activist
Frances Madeson
Meet the Geronimos: Apache Leader’s Descendants Talk About Living With the Legacy
Nauman Sadiq
The War on Terror and the Carter Doctrine
Lawrence Wittner
Does the Democratic Party Have a Progressive Platform–and Does It Matter?
Marjorie Cohn
Death to the Death Penalty in California
Winslow Myers
Asking the Right Questions
Rivera Sun
The Sane Candidate: Which Representatives Will End the Endless Wars?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia District Attorney Hammered for Hypocrisy
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail