While a lot of people point to Greece, which cannot pay its debts without help, as the end game for socialism, the real end game for the failed economic system seems to be taking place in Venezuela. Indeed,as the Daily Beast reports, the end may consist of a bang if the chaotic South American country invades neighboring Guyana for its oil wealth.
Venezuela has been a thorn in the side of the United States and its allies in Latin America ever since Hugo Chavez came to power in 1999. Chavez spent lavishly on social services for the poor, including providing subsidies for such necessities as food and other commodities, thus keeping his grip on power. He also constantly inveighed against the United States, especially President George W. Bush, for plots against his government, real and imagined. In this way, Chavez kept nationalist fervor at a white-hot level, which proved useful as a diversion from his various human rights abuses.
Chavez has been dead two years, but his hand-picked successor, a former bus driver named Nicolás Maduro, has managed to take Venezuela to the edge of the abyss. Most of the problem stems from the fact that the Chavezista social programs have become unsustainable due to the collapse in the price of oil. Venezuela is a major oil producer and depends on fossil fuels to run its economy.
The result of the low price of oil and the persistent lavish spending on social programs, backed up now by printing money, have had predictable results. Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in recent memory, chronic shortages of just about every basic commodity, and a spiraling crime rate that includes murders, kidnappings, and a thriving black market.
Maduro has reacted to the chaos gripping his country in two ways. He has cracked down on his political opposition, throwing leaders such as Leopold Lopez into prison. He has also started to rattle the saber, launching military incursions into neighboring Colombia and massing troops on the border with Guyana, a former British colony.
The prospect of Venezuela engaging in military adventures abroad to cover the chaos happening at home represents yet another headache for the Obama administration, swamped as it is by multiple crises occurring world-wide. An invasion of Guyana could be particularly catastrophic.
Venezuela and Guyana have had a territorial dispute for the past hundred years, predating the latter’s status as an independent country. Venezuela lays claim to Guyana’s Essequibo region, which is rich in resources and comprises 40 percent of the country. A recent discovery by Exxon-Mobile of oil deposits offshore of Essequibo has made the region even more attractive.
A method exists to Maduro’s madness. One issue that unites Venezuelans, Chavezista and opposition, is the belief that Essequibo belongs to Venezuela by right. A war to annex the territory could prove to be popular. The fact that the Guyanan Army likely is too tiny to resist such an invasion must enter into Maduro’s calculations as well.
Of course, a Venezuelan invasion of Guyana might prove to be just the opportunity to end Maduro’s regime, if the Obama administration plays the hand right. If the United States were to intervene in such a conflict, rallying Latin American allies, providing air support and material help to Guyana, the attempt to annex Essequibo could become a crushing military defeat for Venezuela, resulting in the fall of Maduro and his replacement with a government better equipped to deal with the country’s economic problems.
A precedent exists for such a scenario. In 1982, Argentina invaded and seized the Falkland Islands, a British possession. The then-military junta ruling in Buenos Aires was shocked when British Prime Minister Thatcher sent a fleet and an expeditionary force to take back the Falklands. The subsequent defeat inflicted on Argentina resulted in the fall of the junta and the establishment of something resembling a democracy.
Now, if only the well-known Anglophobe President Barack Obama could be persuaded to channel the Iron Lady in dealing with Venezuela in a similar fashion? That may be the sticking point.