Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Refrigerator Wars in Venezuela



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:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”