Gordon Robinson | Beware the bird that cries ‘coup’
Venezuela seems to be wobbling. Street protests, wholesale arrests, government repression, strategies for staying in power longest, strange Supreme Court decisions stripping Parliament of most of its power followed by reversals after more protests, plans to introduce a 'constituent assembly' have the world (oops, sorry, USA) all atwitter. As usual, local analysis ranges from superficial to shallow, with several scoops of self-interest.
Serious analysis requires us to ignore the noise, look beyond the illusion, and learn from history to understand Venezuela's realpolitik and the root of the unrest. Those of us who lived in Jamaica as adults from 1976-1980 should find it easy. We've seen this before.
Venezuela's ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is, you guessed it, of the socialist persuasion, while conservative Opposition party, The Democr·tic Unity Roundtable (Spanish: Mesa de la Unidad Democratica, MUD), is a catch-all electoral coalition of Venezuelan political parties formed in January 2008 to unify the opposition to the PSUV (led by Hugo Ch·vez) in the 2010 Venezuelan parliamentary election.
BBC News reported (May 4, 2017; Venezuela crisis: What's behind the turmoil?):
"Venezuela is split into Chavistas, ... followers of ... Hugo Ch·vez, and those who cannot wait to see an end to [PSUV's] 18 years in power. After [Chavez] died in 2013, Nicol·s Maduro ... was elected president on a promise to continue Ch·vez's policies.
Chavistas praise the two men for using Venezuela's oil riches to markedly reduce inequality and for lifting many Venezuelans out of poverty. But the Opposition says that ... the socialist party has eroded Venezuela's democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy. Chavistas accuse the opposition of being elitist and of exploiting poor Venezuelans to increase their own riches. They also allege the opposition leaders are in the pay of the USA, a country with which Venezuela has had fraught relations in recent years."
Rewind to December 27, 1976, when Time Magazine published a report of Jamaica's elections (Jamaica: Castro's Pal Wins Again):
"The election campaign was the most violent in Jamaican history. It was fought between the socialist PNP and the free-enterprise Opposition Jamaica Labor Party (JLP), led by one-time Finance Minister Edward Seaga. JLP attacked Manley for financial mismanagement and ... trying to turn Jamaica into a satellite of Fidel Castro's Cuba. ... Manley's followers talked of 'JLP policy and the fascist threat', while Manley himself declared: 'the capitalist system has failed us'.
Oh, dear! Is this PNP or PSUV? JLP or MUD? On May 29, Los Angeles Times reported:
"Maduro cancelled a referendum that could have recalled his government, and later, regional elections after the opposition made huge gains in parliamentary voting in 2015. A Maduro-controlled Supreme Court then stripped Parliament of much of its power.
"In addition, thousands of people have been arrested for their political beliefs ... [according to OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro], including Opposition Leader Leopoldo LÛpez ... in jail for three years."
Anyone remember JLP activists Pat Rogers, Olivia Grange, and Pat Stephens; candidate Pearnel Charles; and others who were summarily 'detained' during 1976's state of emergency? Time magazine continues:
"The [campaign's] bitterness caused an explosion of violence and random killings ... . Politicised young thugs stalked the streets of Kingston during the three-week election campaign, assaulting supporters of the other side. Police estimate at least 12 people were killed during the campaign, thereby raising Jamaica's political-murder toll this year to more than 200. Finally, authorities were forced to ban all political rallies, which had acted as magnets for the thugs."
That was 1976; 1980 was yet to come. Remember Goodman's Law? Don't ask if it's about the money. It's ALWAYS about the money. BBC on the current Venezuelan crisis:
"Maduro's ... government has ... been hampered by falling oil prices."
"Oil accounts for about 95 per cent of Venezuela's export revenues and was used to finance government's generous social programmes, which ... have provided more than one million poor Venezuelans with homes.
"The lack of oil revenue forced government to curtail its social programmes, leading to an erosion of support among core backers."
Jamaica, post the 1974 oil crisis, suffered similar difficulties as Manley steadfastly refused to cut social spending, foreshadowing our first flirtation with the IMF. Time Magazine continued:
"Political chaos was made worse by Jamaica's economic disorder, for which Manley has to shoulder some of the blame. For the past two years, he has been committed to ... lavish doses of public spending on labor-intensive road building and land reform.
"Manley's policy directions, as well as his undisguised admiration for Fidel Castro, has given Jamaica's relatively conservative middle class a bad case of the jitters. Jamaican business families established second residences abroad. Income from tourism dropped from $120 million (1975) to an expected $90 million  ... bauxite and sugar exports ... suffer from shrunken international markets.
High unemployment rate
"The upshot is, Jamaica faces a staggering $1-billion national debt. Inflation is running at nearly 15 per cent ... while the unemployment rate ... is 27%."
In 1976, 'progressives' who, by definition, included 99% of college students including your humble scribe, were most concerned about obvious USA interference in our internal affairs overtly through 'mediator' agencies like the UN and the OAS and covertly through the CIA, whose operatives flooded the island. Opposition candidates, led by Edward Seaga himself, travelled all across USA bad-mouthing Jamaica in a transparent effort to encourage just this sort of interference without ever saying it out loud.
Now, a similar trend seems to be developing as the OAS has made incendiary remarks about Venezuela, and, in particular, Maduro. Secretary General Almagro has been caustic.
The OAS is a US puppet, but it's significant that 13 hemispheric states have supported its actions this time around. It seems that Jamaica is one such. Jamaica should be very careful how far down this wicket it goes in support of the OAS because the USA's relationship with Venezuela has been fractured for decades, and ousting Maduro is the USA's wet dream. In that context, its sudden empathy with Venezuela's poor and dispossessed smells like opportunism to me. Canny CARICOM head Ralph Gonsalves has been through this before, so his reaction in support of Maduro is understandable.
In situations like this, Gonsalves is well aware that it's best to err on the side of support for a Third World colleague instead of the OAS as to err in the other direction could result in your being used as a USA satellite against your own brethren.
The puerile reasons for supporting Maduro put forward by Mark Golding, whose permanently pained expression makes it appear that tears are imminent, is, of course, arrant nonsense. There's a name for someone who blindly takes any position or screws anybody based on cash/gifts in return. What's that name you ask? A lawyer, of course.
It's also germane to note:
PNP and Gonsalves' Unity Labour Party are both democratic socialist like PSUV;
JLP is as conservative as MUD.
So, Young Andrew, who I maintain is the best Jamaican prime minister since Edward Seaga, and Kamina Johnson Smith, a superb foreign minister so far, may have acted hastily. In a lengthy letter to Gonsalves, Young Andrew begins by asserting Jamaica's "respect for democratic institutions, the promotion of democracy and human rights, as well as non-intervention in the internal affairs of states", and calling for dialogue to resolve the crises.
But then he ignores principles of non-intervention and picks a side, namely the OAS. Maduro threatened to pull out of the OAS, but Jamaica suggests that CARICOM continue dialogue with and through the OAS. We had better be careful because the OAS's motives are hardly pure, and it might be best that we're not seen as helping the OAS further destabilise Venezuela and propel MUD into power. This smacks of Russia's recent ploy to get Donald Trump elected. The Venezuelan Opposition is trying to force early elections, which aren't due for a year. There's no basis under Venezuelan law for any recall election or referendum, yet the OAS is making it seem that these options are automatic.
I'm no diplomatic expert, but my idea of 'non-intervention' is to wait until Venezuela ASKS us to help in some specific way before becoming involved. Surely, 'non-intervention' doesn't include sussing about Venezuela's embarrassments behind its back with Venezuela's sworn enemy, who seems intent on regime change. Does that boost Venezuela's economy or help the average Venezuelan? I'm with Ralph Gonsalves on this one.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.