In 1992, Defense Minister Gen. Fernando Ochoa told me how the Venezuelan military misread an attempted coup by a small group of dissident officers led by an odd guy nobody had heard of.

In 1998, on the day of new presidential elections, I found myself in the apartment of that same “odd guy,” the flashy comandante Hugo Chavez.

Chavez and I talked for several hours before he went off to become president.

“I am not a communist, not a fascist,” he said at one point.

“I am a democrat. We don’t copy other models; we invent them!”

At that time, I guessed he would rule as a man of the far democratic left. But when I saw him again, five years later at a press conference in New York, Chavez seemed a different man, almost a raging godfather.

The press was now his enemy. He was the victim of a “psychological war.” The man who had previously denied any religious conviction, believing only in his singular hero, the “liberator” of Latin America, Simon Bolivar, suddenly took a small silver cross out of his pocket and began to sing in a strange voice, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.”

Here is what had happened in those crucial five years.

Since its much-heralded revolution against the military dictatorship in 1958, Venezuela had been ruled by two parties that called their system “democracy,” but used the word fraudulently, as they robbed the country blind and stole Venezuela’s vast oil wealth.

Without a serious moral democratic model, that “odd guy,” now President Chavez, emigrated intellectually to Cuba.

Soon, Cuban intelligence agents were all over Venezuela. Venezuela became a socialist country run by Cubans from the shadows. Fair-minded analysts began to call it a Cuban-inspired “criminal empire.” By the time Chavez died in 2013 and the thuggish Nicolas Maduro came to power, it didn’t even have food to feed its people.

This week, the young head of the National Assembly, 35-year-old Juan Guaido, emerged to challenge Maduro’s socialist “paradise.”

Twenty nations backed Guaido, while Maduro’s weary backers — Russia, China and Iran — hesitantly stood behind him.

Here’s what’s interesting. First, the truculent Maduro did not immediately take any of his usual violent actions. Second, forces in Washington and Miami, it turned out, had been quietly working on a plan to back Guaido for some time.

What’s even more revealing are the details of the plan to back Guaido. Led by Florida’s Sen. Marco Rubio and National Security Adviser John Bolton, the Trump administration has been working with other nations on a diplomatic plan, primarily non-military and non-traditionally interventionist, to change the regime in Venezuela from within.

They are using the power of millions of dollars of blocked Venezuelan funds in U.S. banks, plus American oil investments in Venezuela, making them available to Guaido, while European nations were doing the same. Twenty million dollars in food and medical aid was immediately promised to Guaido.

Finally, this week the U.S. imposed sanctions against Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, an act that could cut off the country’s main source of cash, since the U.S. is the only creditor that pays in cash.

These are promising and diplomatically fascinating steps, and the Trump administration will deserve credit for them if they can bring Venezuela back to itself.

(15) comments

Jarvis Buckley

Why does this article not surprise me.

George Croix

The inflation rate in Venezuela is almost 9000 %.
Another of the wonderful consequences of 'socialism', which by it's nature tends to lead to an autocratic government.....if not outright dictatorial....lest the 'one size fits all' fantasy be discovered to be the bunk it is too soon into the consolidation of power into the fewest hands.....
That 'glimmer' size must be dwarfed by a mustard seed....

Don Schlessinger

But our socialists will be "spacial"!

Rusty Schroeder

My housekeeper is from Venezuela, she doesn't speak very highly of it. Hugo Chavez ran that country into the dirt with his army control, broke the country while he got rich off Citgo. I am not putting a lot of faith in stability in Venezuela, it will rebound until the next Chavez comes along, and he will.

Cary Semar

The following quote has been variously attributed but the true author is unknown: "The problem with socialism is socialism, and the problem with capitalism is capitalists." Herbert Hoover, according to family members, once said "The problem with capitalism is capitalists; they are too damn greedy."

The historical record is clear. Socialism, more often than not, leads to consolidation of power and loss of freedom. Capitalism, more often than not, leads to inequality and social instability which opens the door to socialism. There are exceptions to these generalizations and what distinguishes those exceptions is strong, democratic traditions. Capitalism failed in Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century and again at the beginning of this century. In between Russia was under the thrall of a failed socialist state, but Russia has never had a strong democratic tradition.

South America is usually populated by military dictatorships and is historically the victim of economic exploitation by U.S. companies. We have managed to preserve capitalism and freedom for ourselves because of our strong democratic traditions, but we have not been very successful in spreading democracy to the south.

Capitalism is the great engine of productivity, but capitalists are too damn greedy.
Remember Key Largo?

McCloud: What do you want, Johnny Rocco?
Rocco: More. I want more.
McCloud: Will you ever get enough?
Rocco: No, I don't suppose I will.

Perhaps the fundamental problem with politics, and with life itself is, there is no such thing as "enough."

George Croix

Perhaps, Gary. Certainly plenty of cases supporting that.
But there’s no denying there are also no such things as ‘free’ and unlimited ability to pay for that ‘free’ stuff.
But, to me, the question is less why so many politicians are suddenly trumpeting ‘free stuff for all’ and more how anybody can reach voting age and still believe such BS.....

Cary Semar

It's good to have some agreement on fundamental principles, even if it is qualified as with a "perhaps." However, your comment mischaracterizes the views of the opposition and it is disingenuous. Redistribution of wealth does not have to mean "free stuff for everybody" and I think you know why some people advocate redistribution of wealth. Those politicians are taking a simple minded approach to real needs of real people.

It would be great if real needs could be addressed simply by making the pie larger, and nobody had to lose in the process. Economic growth makes the pie larger, but it does not improve the standard of living if all of the return on capital goes to the capitalists and nothing to the workers. The data reveals that this has been the case for the last four decades. The result has been rising inequality and this leads to social instability.

We can fight social instability with mass incarceration or we can try to relieve the pressures by expanding opportunity. One way is through expanding access to higher education and this may require additional taxes on somebody. Another way is through enlightened policies on wages and employment by corporations. Lacking that, minimum wage laws and regulations on the conditions of labor can help. Simply fighting to maintain the status quo is not going to work, nor is any attempt to recreate an imaginary and idealized vision of the past.

George Croix

'Perhaps' is what people who generally have little use for 'absolutes' use, Gary....[wink]
Yep, discussion is good, and differing viewpoints even better if anything other than personal reinforcement is desired. Even when if that discussion is qualified with "...does not HAVE (emphasis mine...) to mean free stuff for everybody..."....
Of course it doesn't HAVE to mean so, but, name one of the current media darlings, the 'new rising stars', for whom is does NOT mean exactly that.....Or, even backtrack to Bernie and that 1024th Central American Indian, BOTH of whom are in the class of people they demean and excoriate for their own political gain, doing so to people too, at best, unfocused to know that's not yellow rain running down their legs when these two talk 'solutions'...
A BIG driver, too, of social instability is the constant drumbeat of Them vs Us...of the notion that one has a RIGHT to what others have, just because the others have it....
I'd guess about as much energy is wasted in scheming to find ways to rob Peter to pay Paul than for Paul to just get down and get to work like Peter did....
And Paul should stop listening to anyone...anyone...who tells him that the road to prosperity or at least a better life is one that is closed to 'ol Paul unless a benevolent government comes to his rescue.....
IMO, fighting to maintain the status quo is EXACTLY what the left's biggest voices ARE doing....that status being THEY, themselves, continue to be exactly what they decry in others, and promise things that sound great but will never happen, to get the votes of the perpetually disaffected/gullible who BELIEVE in A Free Lunch, to start doing the same all over again.
They want POWER, and that power is threatened when MORE people are less dependent on the government.....
IMO, as always....
And, as always, enjoying the back-and-forthing....

George Croix

ps:
Expanding opportunity will work whenever people are ready to take advantage of the opportunity when they get a shot at it.
Planning works better than demanding...generally.....

Gary Miller

Teach how great socialism is without teaching the faults of socialism and expect new voters to vote for socialism. They may understand socialism fails when it runs out of other peoples money. They just don't understand it's THEIR money socialism runs out of if they work for a living. It will be the working population that runs out of money and the unemployed living on welfare who revolt when the "freebies" stop.

Cary Semar

Socialism is public ownership of the means of production. The following are well within the American tradition and they are not socialism:

progressive taxation
minimum wage laws
child labor laws
public education
national parks
health and safety regulations

Even with all of these things, there will be plenty of billionaires, God bless 'em.

Jose' Boix

I find that the most ardent and vocal supporters of the socialistic/communistic ideology/ies, live within the security of a capitalist society. When I approach such individuals to encourage them to move; i.e., to Cuba, or other such place, I get the are you crazy look. Interesting!

George Croix

What Webster says socialism is versus what the ultimate results are of the actual application of socialist policies and practices, by the folks concentrating power in the smallest possible base effecting the largest possible population, is so often an exercise quite similar to debating what the meaning of 'is', is.....imo.....
Sounds great in a controlled environment, but just about everybody ends up on the wrong side of the proverbial fan, sooner or later....
Personally, I've always considered it, being a ward of the government, being kept when capable of NOT being so, the refuge of people(s) too lazy to think for and work for themselves, but, I admit a certain bias in that.....
There's one thing to have government programs that benefit all, especially those truly unable to care for themselves, and quite another to artificially prop up and carry, until the money runs out, those only wanting to be on the taking side, not the contributing...
There's also the issue, like Jose' alluded to, of the phonies who live one way but talk another......
Oddly, they seem to be heavily concentrated in most east and west coastal states, and/or most college campuses......
I guess the '70's taught nobody anything about the eventual winner of a dreams versus reality contest...

Jose' Boix

George; I would venture a guess saying that none of the vocal and ardent spoke-persons for the socialist/communist ideology programs have ever lived in one of those countries. Just ask anyone of the few Cuban-born now American Citizens living in Galveston County who had their life-long homes, businesses and farms sized by such "government." Let's be sure that you have walked the talk! Just my thoughts.

George Croix

Jose', I don't think you'd have to venture very far with that guess.
Got a LOT of people who talk the socialism/commy cra_, but never seem to find the time to leave this United States hell-hole and move to one of their model countries....
I shouldn't be surprised that so many still try to live in the '70's when so many try to live even a lot farther back than that...[beam][beam][wink][whistling]

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