Daniel Thwaites | That oily sugar daddy
Nicolas Maduro's mad rush to the Caribbean was surely about more than dropping by to drink rum and say hi. I suspect the real reason was seeking to raise cash for the country he left in flames behind him. Or, to put it more accurately, to stave off the inevitable downfall of his morally and economically bankrupt regime.
How low has Venezuela sunk when the Caribbean is being warned that refugees may soon start spilling into the ocean and swimming in our direction?
I find no fault in Andrew Holness' dealings with Maduro. But we must be clear about what's happening down there, and we need to know that our days on Venezuela's titty are numbered. Even The Gleaner's editorial of Wednesday, May 25, 'Dealing with Caracas', was too tepid in its outlining of the difference we need to maintain between 'dung soh' and 'up yasso'. It did speak, however, of Jamaica perhaps exercising the "prerogative of friendship" to have a "frank talk" with Maduro. Bossy, dat deh time long gawn!
The good guy
Of course, we want to believe that our 'Brinks' is the good guy. But he's not. This is the upshot: What to do when you realise that your benefactor is abusing his own children.
Venezuela is one of our oldest and most consistent sugar daddies. We like them. We like their credit. We like their oil. When oil was selling above US$100 a barrel, Hugo Ch·vez strode across the Caribbean like Latino Santa Claus.
Some said it was an attempt to bolster Venezuela's geopolitical standing. Others said the generosity sprang from a sense of genuine fraternity. Either way, we gladly collected the handouts and persisted in our mendicant ways. But I can't be the only one to have noticed that bull***t economics has a way of being its own best reward.
As I've said, Maduro left a burning country behind him. Chavismo has been a colossal and epochal failure and we should be taking careful note. As I write, oil is trading above $50 per barrel, which should concern us gravely given that our own Government just tabled a Budget based on US$35. But the escalating prices would ordinarily be of some help to the Venezuelans, except that they have so comprehensively screwed up their economy that it would take triple-digit prices to come close to reviving them.
Apart from the low prices, they've placed political apparatchiks in sensitive technical positions, so the state-run oil company is producing 25 per cent less oil. One is reminded of the Stalinist insistence that surgeons at hospitals have a proper understanding of Marxist ideology, and show proper deference to the proletariat (really the proletariat's rulers), as a prerequisite to removing an appendix. Needless to say, in those circumstances, many an appendix ruptured inside the bodies of proletarian patients.
Similarly, the Chavismo garbage has reduced Venezuelan doctors to operating by lamplight - if they're lucky. Blackouts, in the country with the world's largest oil reserves, are now common. Respirators in maternity wards shut down because the generators aren't working. Doctors, therefore, resort to hand pumps to keep neonates breathing. Even then infant mortality rates at public hospitals have skyrocketed. Operating theatres are being shuttered. There's no oxygen, no dialysis machines, no MRIs, no supplies. Nothing.
Now, the Government is rationing electricity. They shifted the time zone, told women to stop using hairdryers, and reduced public-sector employees to a two-day workweek.
Currency rationing is in full effect. Predictably, therefore, the bolÌvar is essentially worthless. It's 10 bolÌvars for a US dollar, according to the government, but 1,075 bolÌvars for a dollar on the black market.
It's anticipated that next year, Venezuela will post the world's worst economic growth, worst inflation, and worst unemployment figures. Last year, inflation was a staggering 181%, and this year it will be 720%. Government's answer? They've decided to print larger denominations of bolÌvars.
It has the world's second-worst murder rate. It's eating through its gold and currency reserves. Some airlines have stopped flying there. Cell phone providers have suspended international calls. Mail is irregular. Recently, Venezuela achieved that pinnacle of the centrally planned economy: no toilet paper.
Chavismo is pounding the country back into the Neolithic Age. So now you understand why Venezuelans are taking to the streets and why the Caribbean is being warned that people will soon be taking to small watercraft for salvation.
Blame the 'ism'
All these bad things, of course, are caused by imperialism, colonialism, globalism, capitalism, and every other imaginable 'ism' that can be pinned on the Great Yankee Plot to destabilise. But despite it being an obvious barrel of oily hogwash, it is an article of faith. Among other things, it completely exculpates the Venezuelan government and relieves them of any responsibility to actually manage their affairs.
Venezuela has zero reason to not be rich and prosperous. Instead, it has been beggared by its governments: rapists of the Right or jackass lunatics of the Left.
Incidentally, by some reports, Hugo Ch·vez's daughter, Maria Gabriela Ch·vez, has assets amounting to US$4.2 billion and is the richest person in the country. Convenient.
Transparency International ranks it the ninth most corrupt country, beating Somalia and Sudan. So it's OK, right?
Fact is, it's a matter of time before the people of Venezuela turf the Chavistas out. And will the new government feel kindly towards those who collected from the squandering of their national resources? Probably not. That's what we need to prepare for.
- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.