Is Venezuela Coming Apart?

By Renee Reneau

Is Venezuela Coming Apart?

By Renee Reneau
UM’s Center for Hemispheric Policy hosted a panel discussion about the future of Venezuela and upcoming elections.

When Russell Dallen, publisher of the Latin American Herald Tribune, asked guests attending the Center for Hemispheric Policy's discussion on Venezuela this month to open the envelopes taped under their seats for a "special surprise," no one could miss the irony in his voice. Inside were various denominations of the Venezuelan currency, the bolívar.

As Dallen explained, even as the Venezuelan government officially reports that the exchange rate is 6.3 bolívares to $1 US, the current black market rate is 135 times that, at 850 bolívares to $1. This meant that the "lucky" holder of 10 bolívares had won less than a cent.

All this to say that the current state of Venezuela's economy is in shambles. In the socialist nation basic staples, such as milk and flour, are hard to find. Inflation is rising while oil production, once the nation's dominant economic driver, continues to plummet.

Gathered at the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables on November 12, Dallen and fellow panelists, Javier Corrales of Amherst College, Beatrice Rangel of AMLA Consulting, and Otto Reich, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere Affairs, discussed the current situation in Venezuela and the possible effects of the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, on December 6. Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the CHP at the University of Miami, moderate the discussion.

“Polls indicate that for the first time, economic adversity is more concerning to Venezuelans than insecurity,” said Corrales. “There is a real chance the opposition will conquer the National Assembly.”

Opposition groups in Venezuela continue to strongly campaign against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s government. But Maduro has consistently fought them with military and legislative force, imprisoning leaders for minor infractions and following the steps of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez.

In the 2010 National Assembly elections, the Venezuelan opposition made large gains but did not see a tangible transfer of power. The next election could be a different story, but Reich was skeptical.

“I'm not optimistic in the case of Venezuela,” he said. “Because the people in charge are not looking at December 6 the same way we are.”

Rangel concurred, but pointed out that Maduro's poor reputation in the international community is pronounced and growing. She cited the letter from Luis Almagro, secretary general of the Organization of American States.

“The letter was basically an indictment,” Rangel said. “It was a letter to the Chavistas listing the frauds the government will commit, and this has never happened before.”

The discussion concluded with a Q&A session that included many Venezuelans now living in Miami, among them lawyers, doctors, and students, who are active in the community.

While the panelists disagreed over the best role for the United States to play with regard to Venezuela, one thing was clear: an opposition victory December 6 will not guarantee a less powerful Chavista government.

“Elections have played an important role in every cycle of political development in the country,” Rangel said. “But with accomplices and victims, you don't change nations.”