By Michael Rowan
I have written over 1,000 columns and 2 books on this subject since 1993, so let me cut to the chase. The short answer to the headline question is probably no because the harm to Venezuela is entirely self-inflicted. But there are meaningful steps the U.S. could take that might be helpful at least in clearing out the current den of thieves.
A note on how Venezuela got to this point. Collapse has long been predictable and predicted.
Since the nationalization of oil and industry in 1976, productivity decreased and official corruption increased on an arithmetic scale. Confiscations and corruption under Chavez accelerated those problems on a geometric scale. And Maduro has injected them with steroids.
Venezuela is now speeding so close to the cliff’s edge that its wheels are furiously spinning in air.
An historic point: Venezuela’s self-inflicted fee-fall has nothing to do with revolution, socialism or capitalism – that was all populist nonsense talk. It had to do with theft.
It turns out that Lord Acton’s principle, “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” is unfortunately true of corrupted democracies, not just autocracies.
Here is Venezuela’s taunt to the free world: You think this can’t happen to you, don’t you? Stick around.
As anyone familiar with life in Venezuela knows, there is a small cartel in control that lives like kings including several billionaires who owned nothing before gaining power in the cartel, while a huge majority suffers from deprivation, devastation and injustice unseen in the Americas in modern times – even in Bolivia, Cuba or Haiti.
In 1960, Venezuela was as rich as Germany or Spain. Today it is competing with Zimbabwe.
About $300 billion of oil money is unaccounted for in Venezuela. What also goes uncounted are homicides, drug deals, terrorism, diseases, theft, slavery, torture and official killings.
The reason the perverse collapse continues is that the institutions of law, democracy and a rules-based economy have been suborned to the point of disappearance.
The social norms are also gone. A lost generation never learned about such things even conceptually. And the millions of middle class Venezuelans who retreated from their homeland left nothing of these norms behind.
The Venezuelan population is now in a mental state rocked by anomie, fear and loathing.
The creeping occupation of Venezuela by a small military cartel has been largely ignored by the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations and it’s impossible to know what Trump will do about it, if anything.
But it’s obvious that the community of nations on earth or in the Americas have no political tools to stop -- no less reverse -- Venezuela’s attempted suicide. Chavez used oil money to buy international support from neighbors and true friends in Iran, Syria, Libya, North Korea, China and Russia. Enough said.
Nevertheless, it’s been obvious for years that the US could make it impossible for Venezuela’s cannibalistic theft to continue.
With the stroke of a pen – a tweet -- the US president can sanction US business transactions with PDVSA and its owners (the government of Venezuela), and not lift sanctions unless and until new managers and owners are proven to be without taint of terrorism, narcotics, human trafficking, money-laundering or theft.
A few seconds after that tweet, the clock would start ticking on the cartel -- the game would be over.
Venezuela is surviving from U.S. oil sales, its major source of dollar cash flow. If US dollars get cut off, there is no way for the current cartel to survive: it has no credit, its currency is hyperinflating, its reserves are low, its debts are enormous, its economy is not producing, and its people are starving. Technically Venezuela would be unable to pay the million military and police who suppress the population.
Consider the political dynamic in Venezuela under U.S. sanctions. The military would have to find new leaders who are untainted by corruption, in order to get the US dollars flowing again. As they do that, the gates will open to international aid to stem the tide of the humanitarian crisis drowning Venezuela.
Will U.S. sanctions guarantee the return of law, democracy and rules-based economy to Venezuela? No. But the sanctions will provide Venezuelans with one last chance to try to restore law and democracy in their society.
The U.S. should stop doing business with the Venezuelan cartel for two reasons. First, Venezuela is the first democracy to emerge in Latin America – in 1958; the U.S. cannot continue to subsidize Venezuela as it becomes the first democracy in history to collapse into chaos and theft. And second, a rogue Venezuela is a national security threat to the U.S., as has been well documented. So, here’s what to do:
Send the 16 million who get Trump’s tweets a one-liner on Venezuela, and stand by for the fall-out .Michael Rowan is an author and political consultant who has advised presidential candidates throughout Latin America, including Governor Manuel Rosales in Venezuela, President Jaime Paz Zamora of Bolivia and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica. In the U.S., he has advised winning candidates in 26 states. He has been an award winning columnist for El Universal, The Daily Journal -- predecessor to LAHT -- and the Latin American Herald Tribune since the 1990s. He is the author, with Douglas Schoen, of The Threat Closer to Home - Hugo Chavez and the War Against America.