Officers chant “Chavez Lives” at their "Studies of the Thoughts of the Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez" classes. But Supreme Commander Chavez was killed by Cuban medicine and his regime and philosophy are on their last legs as the Venezuelan people have turned against his successor.
When Cuban medicine let Chavez die, it also raised a tombstone for the Castro regime. Chavez gave away 100,000 barrels a day to Castro keeping the Communist regime afloat. In return Cuban secret police, organizers and teachers helped keep the Supreme Commander in power. But Hugo Chavez is dead and his successor, Nicolas Maduro, is wildly unpopular. Venezuela has turned into Cuba with food shortages and soldiers in the street and no one wants to live like Cuba.
Not even the Cubans do.
The cult of Chavez portrays him as a holy figure to Venezuela’s poor and to its military officers who are the last firewall of a collapsing government which needs soldiers and street thugs to protect Maduro. But the revolution is collapsing faster than the next wave of officers can be indoctrinated with chants of “Chavez Lives”. This inevitable failure of Socialism is being unintentionally sped up by Saudi Arabia.
The Saudi campaign against American fracking has dumped cheap oil on the market hurting Russia, Iran and Venezuela; all of which rely heavily on energy exports.
Chavez had screamed against capitalism in fiery speeches while building his Socialist revolution around oil exports and financial credit. Now Maduro is stuck with a $5 billion bill and no way to pay it. The former bus driver and community organizer vowed that he would make oil $100 a barrel. Not only does he have no way of doing that outside his own miserable price controlled country, but oil is headed for $50 a barrel and Maduro is stuck denouncing credit rating companies for ranking Venezuela below African countries with Ebola. African countries with Ebola however have lower debt and a financial plan that doesn’t involve delivering a speech denouncing the CIA every hour on the hour.
Maduro and his Cuban handlers know that a debt default is coming. There are basic shortages all over the country of everything from milk to toilet paper. A debt default will make Venezuela’s deeply dysfunctional economy in which no one can buy a new car and people fly out of the country to get dollars to buy basic products on the black market even worse.
But Maduro can’t cut off Cuba’s oil without being overthrown. He can’t trim the ranks of the country’s massive bureaucracy because they represent his last remaining bastion of support. His attempts at central planning have failed miserably, but introducing free market reforms would be an admission that Chavez was wrong and that the revolution is over. All Maduro can do is fight the inevitable overthrow.
Indoctrinating the military is one way of doing it. Forced redistribution of flat screen televisions from electronics stores by the military is another. It’s no longer a matter of winning elections, even rigged ones, it’s about maintaining a radical base willing to fight to prevent the return of freedom.
Chavez won the loyalty of slum dwellers by giving them everything from government supermarkets to government clinics, but the supermarkets are low on food and the clinics are low on Cuban doctors. Maduro’s approval rating fell from a bare majority to barely a quarter of the population. Identification with the United Socialist Party of Venezuela has fallen to 16 percent of the population; a significant comedown from a party that recently claimed a quarter of the population as members.
Members of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela smell blood in the water and are fighting to throw Maduro into the water to salvage the cult of Chavez by using the former bus driver as the scapegoat. Those Marxist groups that didn’t join the USPV are readying their own street protests to exploit the opportunity. If both the populist right and left fully go out into the streets, Maduro won’t survive.
Maduro still commands the street thugs of the UBCh (Units of Battle Hugo Chavez) and the Chavista generals are doing their best to indoctrinate officers with the cult of Chavez, but just as in the last days of the USSR, everything will be determined by the willingness of the soldiers in the street to shoot.
The big question mark is how far will Castro go to protect his 100,000 barrels of oil a day? Normally the United States might have served as a check on Cuban intervention, but Obama is highly unlikely to interfere over anything short of total genocide. Opposition sources have estimated that there are thousands of Cuban troops in the country and unknown numbers of agents of influence. And with a Latin American map of governments dominated by Marxists linked to Cuba in Brazil, Chile, Nicaragua, Uruguay and a mini-Chavez in charge of Bolivia, there won’t be much local opposition.
And yet the current system is economically unsustainable.
Venezuela took over the job of subsidizing and organizing the Latin American left when the USSR ceased to exist and Cuba could no longer afford to play puppetmaster without funding from the Kremlin. Now it’s too deep in debt and its oil is worth too little, there are too many angry people in the streets and too little food in the stores. Under Cuban guidance, Maduro has tried to impose a radical system that even his own bosses in Havana have been slowly backing away from. The only way he can stay with it is by killing enough of his people and establishing a full dictatorship under the gun.
That’s what Cuba wants him to do, but the transition from a populist regime that promised to give everything to everyone using oil money to a dictatorship in which party members gorge themselves while the rest of the country goes hungry isn’t going well.
Chavez might have made it work, but Maduro’s populism is a weak echo of his old boss. Where Chavez seemed powerful, Maduro only seems paranoid. His attempts to pick a fight with America, his constant conspiracy theories and his claims of supernatural phenomena involving Chavez only make him seem unstable. Havana wanted a weak dim Venezuelan leader with few ideas of his own to carry out their agenda, but now many of the Chavistas want another Chavez. And they’ll have to fight the Cuban puppeteers who have been running their country into the ground to get him.
Meanwhile the street protests of the right will rise again and the street protests of the left will come. And whatever happens, Venezuela’s credit will be shot and its generous economic projections based on high oil prices will collapse leading to a major crisis.
Maduro’s reliance on the military to do everything from breaking up protests to handing out flat screen televisions has become a liability. Hugo Chavez came out of the military and attempted to organize a coup with fellow officers. The military is still the likeliest force to end up running the country once the chaos becomes too much for the Maduro regime and its rivals to manage.
Indoctrinating officers with the "Studies of the Thoughts of the Supreme Commander Hugo Chavez" is among other things a final gamble that the next military dictator will be a man of the left.
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