As I reported for The Nation in late June, while Venezuela is not “in a state of total collapse,” as per The New York Times and other mainstream media sources, the country is in the midst of a very severe crisis, which is getting worse. Venezuelans are not dying, or starving, or looting en masse. But many, far too many, are suffering. Why? And what could be done to ease this suffering and help Venezuela get back on its feet?
These are difficult questions to answer. This is not merely because Venezuela’s crisis has multiple causes, short-, medium-, and long-term. Nor is it because some of the causes, and potential solutions, to the crisis are quite technical. The difficulty lies, rather, in the challenge, and perhaps impossibility, of disentangling the “internal” and “external” aspects of the crisis.
To an agonizingly large degree, Venezuela’s crisis is of the government’s own making. Instead of easing or ending it, the government’s actions—and inactions—over the last several years have made it far worse. Yet, the government has not acted in a vacuum, but in a hostile domestic and international environment. The opposition has openly and repeatedly pushed for regime change by any means necessary. In addition to fostering a politically toxic climate, the opposition’s actions over the past three years—its refusal to recognize President Nicolás Maduro’s April 2013 victory, despite absolutely no evidence of electoral fraud; ensuing violence that targeted state-run health clinics and left at least seven civilians dead; another wave of violence beginning in February 2014 that left 43 dead, approximately half of them due to opposition actions; and recent and repeated calls for military and foreign intervention—have also had a very damaging economic effect.
The US government has not only cheered, and funded, these anti-democratic actions. By absurdly declaring that Venezuela is an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to US national security and pressuring investors and bankers to steer clear of the Maduro administration, the White House has prevented Venezuela from obtaining much-needed foreign financing and investment.
An honest account of the crisis must include both of these aspects: the government’s costly errors, and the destabilizing actions of the opposition and US government. To ignore one or the other is to misrepresent reality and perpetuate false all-or-nothing narratives that blame the crisis, in its entirety, on either “socialism” or the “Empire.” Such narratives may comfort those seeking affirmation for preconceived notions, but they will not aid those seeking to know why Venezuela is in crisis and how it might get out of it.