Simón Bolívar’s Independence Movement and Liberation of Most of the Americas: Analytical Essay
Since Simón Bolívar’s independence movement resulted in the liberation of most of the Americas, Latin America has lived with a certain affinity for military leaders and their charisma. This affinity has been a blessing and curse with the likes of Peron and Pinochet creating terror in their countries with the use of military regimes. Venezuela, even though blooming with oil wealth as one of the richest countries in the world, would be no exception to that. It would all start with one man, Hugo Rafael Chavez Frias. After a two-party system led the country for many years, an economic shock in the 1980s led many of the lower-class citizens of the country to be at odds with these parties, whomst both remained capitalist in belief (Fisher). In 1992, a group of military officers that envisioned a more leftist political system attempted to overthrow the government of President Perez (Fisher). They failed and were imprisoned but their legacy would not fail. The man how led this movement, Chavez himself, would not give up here. His message of an anti-establishment system had reverberated within the Venezuelans that were struggling economically. After the government loosened election rules and President Caldera freed him, Chavez had a clean shot at the presidency. He ran on promises he knew he could not fulfill but that he knew would catapult him to the presidency by creating a false illusion in the population, he had revived populism in Latin America (Meznar). Chavez would go on to call it the Bolivarian Revolution.
Chavez’s first obstacle in his quest for an omnipotent government was the country’s constitution. Venezuela’s constitution, established in 1961, was made with the explicit intent to avoid an authoritarian regime at all costs. It prohibited re-election and constitutional reform (Zambrano). Chavez hoped to change this and so he ran on a constitutional reform platform during his presidency. As Stanford associate professor Zambrano argues, “A referendum that can override any constitution eliminates the boundary between constitutional law and politics” (Zambrano). Chavez’s goal was to leave the cornerstone of a nation’s democracy at the mercy of a majority unknowledgeable and ignorant majority that would vote for the reform just as they did for his election. While many challenged this idea at the country’s supreme tribunal, the tribunal sided with Chavez, arguing that the people had u, image authority over any constitutional constraints (Zambrano). Only 38 percent of the electorate would turn out to vote for the referendum, handing Chavez his constituent assembly (Zambrano). This meant that only a small representation of the country had just given Chavez 90 percent control of the country’s parliament. From now on, Chavez’s reign would only take the country in a very steep fall.
As soon as Chavez and his Constitutional Assembly asserted this power, they moved to swiftly suspend the original Congress and Supreme Court by arguing that they did not embody the people’s views as much as his Constitutional Assembly and him did (Zambrano). Both the Supreme Court and the assembly protested this move but were shut down after threats of violence by Chavez if his demands were not listened to. Two months after this, The Supreme Court released a decision on a case in which it stated that “the new Constituent Assembly was a supra-constitutional body and thus cannot be subject to the limits of the existing judicial order, including the current Constitution (Zambrano). This handed Chavez total and final control and power over any opposing institutions which allowed him to move forward with the new constitution after a second low turnout referendum. This new constitution gave Chavez an extension of term limits, abolished Congress, and most importantly allowed for immediate Presidential re-election (Zambrano). Chavez had just reshaped the image of the Presidency as one of omnipotence that would open a door to authoritarianism.
During his tenure, Chavez privatized thousands of private sector industries which amazed his followers but worried business owners (Carrillo). The largest takeover of such was his takeover of the Venezuelan oil fields, the country’s single largest source of revenue. Chavez converted the fields into a state-owned oil company called PDVSA. This nationalization gave the government complete profit from the oil (Rajagopal). A lot of this profit would however not go into the investment of national infrastructure but rather the pockets of Chavez’s loyalists. In 2002, the state oil company went on strike as anger was created due to Chavez’s extreme control on the oil and the controversial appointment of inexperienced people to the board because of loyalism (Rajagopal). This strike and opposition forced Chavez out of power. He, however, found his way back to power and retaliated the strikes and nationwide protests with changes that involved firing 18,000 workers and consolidating control (Rajagopal). Chavez continued to do his best to isolate the few private oil companies left such as Exxon and ConocoPhillips by seizing their assets in the country (Lavelle). Chavez continued this policy until he drained all private companies out of the Venezuelan oil fields, leaving the oil industry in the country with very limited expansion potential. Chavez left Venezuela’s oil industry frozen in age with no ability to update many of its drilling systems, therefore leaving harder to drill rich areas untapped (Rajagopal). Another of Venezuela’s mistakes with oil was its subsidized partnerships with other socialist nations. Venezuela’s partnership with socialist nations such as Cuba, Bolivia, and Argentina at the time allowed for them to sell oil at discounted prices for those countries in exchange for loyalty. This part of the plan would also help expand Chavez’s legacy into a new wave of socialism that would expand to most countries in Latin America. Therefore the misappropriation of those funds and discounted rates would mean that the same resource that took Venezuela to the world stage would also be the one to destroy it.
Using the money from the rising oil revenues that resulted from the nationalization of the industry, Chavez created social programs called Bolivarian Missions. While these ideas seemed genuine attempts at alleviating the needs of the poor, Chavez made it quite unsustainable system for them. The programs covered many areas, from “adult literacy programs, free community health care, low-income housing construction, and subsidizing food and other consumer goods” (Rajagopal). While malnutrition and unemployment dropped and daily calorie intake increased, the way the country handled them made it a long-term problem. Since the missions were based on funding by the oil revenue, they became unsustainable. As Venezuela’s expenditures started to exceed its revenue and the oil production fell due to the nationalization of the industry, Venezuela started to fail to pay its bills for the missions.
After the attempted overthrow of 2002, Chavez found a way to suppress opposition and maintain power by creating loyalist armed groups so he wouldn’t have to rely only on military support (Fisher). These groups are the collectivos. They funneled money and arms from the government to become political enforcers by wreaking havoc at anti-government protests (Fisher). Feared by protesters as the most lethal of enforcement forces, colectivos would arrive on motorcycles to protest while shooting towards protesters and chanting government mottos. According to Rocio San Miguel, a defense analyst from Venezuela, “They are vital as a defense mechanism in breaking up protests and generating fear in the civil population… They are the operating arm of the state.” (Taylor). Their constant presence has led to people in low-class neighborhoods and slums to avoid demonstrations against the government, fearing that their food handouts or even lives will be taken away (Taylor). Colectivos even control entry and exit points in many slums and have become the reason for a spike in crime rates in the country as according to Alejandro Velasco, a New York University professor who studies colectivos, “the groups were later joined by criminal opportunists who learned that “adding a little ideology to their operations could win them impunity” (Fisher). This creates total anarchy and violence that goes unchecked by corrupt police departments, making Venezuela one of the most dangerous countries in the world. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, Venezuela saw 26,000 homicides in 2017 alone, 15 times more than the global average (AFP). Venezuela became a country-sized crime scene where it seemed more important for criminals to rob people of their lives than their belongings.
These were Chavez’s words during his last public address before his death in 2013. His followers listened, or so the National Election Center tells us after a controversial vote count during Maduro’s election. Chavez had left Maduro with a struggling economy, high crime rates, and a starving population. Maduro had no experienced and was a former bus driver facet that proved worrisome for Venezuelans. Unable to pay for all social programs and government subsidies, Maduro started printing more money. This started to drive up inflation and make daily grocery runs impossible for Venezuelans (Taub). This made Maduro start rolling out price controls and getting rid of zeros in the currency to maintain bill denominations small. This created a decrease in imports and forced businesses so shut down. Maduro continued to print money, inflation continued to rise, hitting 53,798,500 percent at the start of 2019, according to the Venezuelan Central Bank (Cedrom). Food continued to become scarce and Maduro hung into a thread that was kept together by the social programs he was struggling to pay. This cycle would destroy and continue to destroy the country’s economy (Fisher). As Maduro started to avoid printing more money, he resorted to patronizing parts of the government. Maduro put family members and military officers in charge of important food and drug trades around the country that kept them loyal and kept their pockets full (Fisher). Gold mining rights in protected areas of the Amazon were also given to China to help pay off the debt that Venezuela owed to them. As the prices continued to spike on the street, black markets bloomed, becoming the mainstream way of acquiring basic goods at inflated prices (Fishers). Colectivos capitalized on this issue and started running many of these back markets, making small business owners pay them in order to stay in business without having their business vandalized. Maduro was not the cause of the crisis, but he had just escalated and catalyzed the crisis even more.
When Venezuela stopped publishing health statistics in 2017, there was cause for concern. But until recent reports, the magnitude of the crisis has been public. Before Chavez, Venezuela was a leading country in terms of medical advancement in South America. Today, however, it struggles to fight vaccine-eradicated diseases such as measles and diphtheria that reappeared after the economic crisis started (Schreiber). Maternal mortality rose in number of cases with a 65 percent increase in a year. Infant deaths increased as well, with a 30 percent increase in this during a year (US State Department). The lack of available and proper medical facilities helped exacerbate the crisis as well; according to Doctors for Health, “76 percent of hospitals surveyed had deficiencies in laboratory testing, 70 percent saw lapses in radiology services, 67 percent suffered electricity shortages, and 70 percent were experiencing water shortages” (US State Department). The country also saw an increase in Tuberculosis cases, the highest its been in four decades with 13,000 cases in 2017. New HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths have increased sharply, according to the Pan American Health organization with the researchers arguing that the vast majority of HIV-positive Venezuelans do not currently have access to antiretroviral medications (Schreiber). Said research also estimated that new HIV infections increased by 24 percent from 2010 to 2016, which was the last year that the government published health data (Schreiber). Nearly 9 out of 10 Venezuelans known to be living with HIV at the time were not receiving antiretroviral treatments (Schreiber). The report also found that 1.3 million people who used to be able to feed themselves in Venezuela have had difficulty doing so since the economic crisis began three years ago (Kohut). Caritas, examined children in working-class areas in multiple states around the country since last year and found out that” fifty-four percent of children in them suffer from some sort of malnutrition” (Kohut). This number is only expected to keep rising as the economic crisis worsens and Maduro’s government continues to cover up the struggles of a worsening free health care system, Venezuela becomes malnourished and a ticking time bomb of an epidemic for the continent.
As the country’s situation continued to worsen, many people were forced to leave the country to find a better future. The country’s migration situation was far more critical than this, creating today what is one of the most largest and most complex population displacements in Latin American history. According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM), The exodus means Venezuelans are now ‘one of the single largest population groups displaced from their country’ (BBC). The agencies estimate that around 4 million Venezuela,s have fled the country up until the start of 2019, meaning the number has most likely continued to rise since then. According to Voices of America, more than half of the Venezuelans leaving are heading for Colombia. Hundreds of thousands are also heading to countries further south like Ecuador, Peru, and Chile. Smaller pockets of the population are leaving Venezuela through the remote border with Brazil (VOA)L More than 28,000 filed asylum petitions in the U.S. last year alone as well, making Venezuelans one of the top asylum requesters in recent years (VOA). According to UN estimates around 5,000 people leave the country every day. While comparing the Syrian refugee crisis, Voices of America states that “by comparison, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in 2015, Germany took in 900,000 refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Turkey currently houses around 3.5 million Syrian refugees” (VOA). Venezuela’s situation is also starting to resemble Syria’s due to the impact and crisis that it is creating to neighboring countries as they struggle to deal with the extreme immigration numbers coming from Venezuela. Many governments in the continent are starting to argue that the large number of immigrants is putting restraints on social services due to the fact that most Venezuelans have no money for basic goods and care after fleeing. Some areas within these countries have taken to drastic measures like Roraima in northern Brazil declaring a state emergency last year after 30,000 Venezuelans arrived in the state capital (VOA). This extreme migration has also led to a rise in xenophobia towards Venezuelans around the world. While most countries were sympathetic and cordial to Venezuelans initially as the country provided very well-prepared and wealthy professionals, the migration now having shifted as a general one of all the classes has created fear within native populations (Fieser). The fear is not of violence or gangs but rather of job competition as Venezuelans of lower status pose more of a threat to the average worker in other countries (Fieser). Even outside of the country, Venezuelans suffer the aftermath of the Venezuelan regime’s choices.
While many argue that Chavez’s work and policies were for the people and of the people. the evidence of the long-term effects of his work, especially after his death would suggest otherwise. Using his charisma and relatability to the poor working class of Venezuela, Chavez convinced this majority group that he was the solution to the economic clashes of the past parties that were based on capitalism. Chavez ran on the emotions and passions of the changes people wanted, not the pragmatic analysis of natural politics. Chavez created a utopia that could only exist in his head. Chases created an authoritarian system that simultaneously depended on democracy to stay afloat. Simon Bolivar once said that “Republican democracy is ever perfect and demands political virtues and talents far superior to our own.” There will be men who will take advantage of this fact and push the boundaries were we cannot discern between the over-perfect ideal and the authoritarian mind. Chavez’s slow transition to authoritarianism made this line even harder to see. Once Venezuelans had realized the consequences of Chavez’s actions, it was too late to turn back. This research supports this idea and the idea that Venezuela’s demise was not the cause of a secret CIA conspiracy or an economic war by the Venezuelan opposition and the Colombian right but rather the product of one man. Chavez promised free healthcare system and left the county’s health system in shambles with no fully functioning hospitals. Chavez promised beautiful free houses and left the country with buildings that had failing foundations. Chavez promised increased safety and security and left the country with armed groups that run the streets like anarchy. Chavez promised a trustworthy successor and left the country with an inexperienced bus driver who sold the Amazon to China. Chavez promised stability and left the country with millions of Venezuelans leaving looking for stability elsewhere. Chavez promised Chavismo.
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