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The Scream: the Origins of Venezuela’s Economic Crisis

Trump has said that his government is “too far along in the process” of regime change in Venezuela for him to meet with Maduro. This stands in contrast to his readiness to meet again with Kim Jung-un, who is already “too far along” in the process of developing nuclear weapons for Trump to do otherwise. My question is, when did this process begin?

On the one hand, it has been shown by many commentators such as Vijay Prashad to be another episode, like the Nixonian Coup D’état in Chile, in a long history of US colonialism in the America’s referred to as the “Monroe Doctrine.”

The doctrine’s, “Roosevelt Corollary,” articulated during the 1902-03 Venezuela Crisis by the “Big Stick” himself, would seem to apply most directly: “In the Western Hemisphere the adherence to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”

In that case, the US Navy under Admiral George Dewey intervened to ensure that payment of debts by Venezuela was made on its terms; that is without any European “boots on the ground.” German gunboats had threatened to land troops to enforce payments to the Krupp Family for their construction of the Great Venezuela Railway, but Washington preferred a legal settlement under its supervision, “The Washington Protocols.”

No doubt the Russo-Venezuelan joint military maneuvers held in December 2018, and the presence in the Western Hemisphere of two nuclear-capable Russian “Blackjack” bombers,played a part in Washington’s recent decision to escalate the crisis.

On the other hand, Venezuela’s economy did not begin to “scream,” and the US had not really “created the conditions” for the current crisis (to borrow Kissinger’s phrase), until a dramatic drop in oil prices hit the world economy in 2014 and sent Venezuela’s economy into a tailspin.

Most commentators today, even on the left, seem to assume that oil prices just crashed in 2014 like a natural disaster –  a wildfire, hurricane or earthquake; and that the Maduro government is guilty of “wrongdoing or impotence” in response (though many do not agree that the Monroe Doctrine should be applied as punishment).

But if we return to the pages of Counterpunch in 2014-15, we are reminded that the politics of oil were already understood to play an important role in price deflation, and even more to the point, were aimed directly at undermining Venezuela’s economy. Mike Whitney quoted Putin at the time as saying, “We all see the lowering of oil prices. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”

And Jack Rasmus had already concluded by December 8th, 2014 that, “it’s not Venezuelan domestic economic policies that are contributing most to the decline in the value of the Venezuelan Bolivar. It is the collapse of global oil prices that is the main culprit.”

Fast forward to the current crisis, and assumptions that oil prices just happen to be low, and that the Maduro government has failed the Venezuelan people, are called into question. Canada is a case in point. For all Chrystia Freeland’s self-righteous claims about the “preventable suffering” of Venezuelans; her government, even without US sanctions, failed to protect its own oil dependent economy in Alberta from falling into unprecedented levels of recession, deficits and unemployment during the same time period.

But is it possible that efforts to create the conditions for the Venezuelan Coup of 2019 have trans-versed Presidency’s and Political Parties in the United States? Might Trump, for once, have understated the case when he observed how “far along” in this process his government really is?

Well, they do say that the “proof is in the pudding.”

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Paul Bentley holds an MSc. (Econ) in International Relations from the London School of Economics, and an Ed. D. in the History and Philosophy of Education from the University of Toronto. He has worked as a History Teacher and Head of Department in Ontario High Schools for over 25 years. He is the author of Strange Journey: John R. Friedeberg Seeley and the Quest for Mental Health — Academic Studies Press.

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