Friday, February 14, 2014


We all know the old adage about wetting your house when your neighbour's house is on fire. But here in happy old T&T we are simply not paying any attention whatsoever to what is happening a few kilometers to the west of us in Venezuela. There are no reports in our local press about what is happening and nobody seems to be paying attention to the looming disaster next door to our shores. On Wednesday (12th February) there were deadly clashes in Caracas when three people were killed. The killings followed a huge peaceful demonstration of more than ten thousand people who took to the streets to protest the economic policies of President Nicholas Maduro and the hardships that the people are enduring as a result.

Right now in Venezuela there are shortages of just about everything ranging from toothpaste and milk to toilet paper. Can you imagine that?! Toilet paper is now hard to come by in the country with  some of the largest oil reserves in the world! How many times a day do you use toilet paper? Seriously. Think about it. Think about, for example, being in a public place (e.g., the airport) and having to go only to find that there is no toilet paper! Do you think that that would be uncomfortable?!? I am sorry to sound so crude, but this is a reality that millions of Venezuelans are having to deal with on a daily basis!

The real reason for these shortages is because there is a tremendous shortage of foreign exchange. Businesses and manufacturers simply can't get enough hard currency to import anything and businesses and factories are shutting down on an almost daily basis. The Venezuelan bolivar is practically worthless ... nobody wants it ... and trades on the black market at more than ten times its official value. Corruption is everywhere. Indeed, I have heard stories that certain high up persons in Maduro's administration are taking the hard currency (US dollars) earned by state owned PDVSA (the Venezuelan equivalent of Petrotrin) and putting an amount in bolivars into PDVSA's bank account at the official rate. They then sell enough dollars at the black market rate to meet this expenditure and then bank the rest outside! We are talking of billions here ... not millions ... being siphoned off. And officially, no money is missing as the correct amount of bolivars are in the company's account. It's just that the US dollars just aren't going into the country but are staying offshore.Neat, eh?

In the meantime, the Cubans continue to suck Venezuela dry. Maduro is continuing the policies of his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, and supplying Cuba with virtually free oil. Cuba pays Venezuela back with some doctors and nurses and ... more ominously ... "advisers" on national security. With one of the highest murder rates in the world guess what these security "advisers" are really doing? I'll give you three guesses and the first two don't count! If you guessed that they are helping Maduro turn Venezuela into a police state a la Cuba you would be absolutely right!! And Cuba has one of the most ruthless police systems in the world. The Castros are NOT nice people.

Maduro is trying hard to deflect the harsh realities of economics and the problems that ordinary people are facing in Venezuela. He blames the shortages on "saboteurs" and "profit-hungry corrupt businessmen". Sound familiar? In December he tried to curry favour with the proletariat  by ordering the importers and retailers of electronic goods (televisions, computers, etc.) to drop their prices radically and sell their goods at state decreed prices. Naturally, there was a rush to buy. But what had really happened? In an effort to stay in business the businessmen had bought dollars in the black market at a rate of something like seventy bolivars to one dollar when the official rate was only around six to one. Obviously, in order to make a profit (what other reason is there to be in business?) the prices of these electronic goods were marked up at the black market rate. By forcing the businesses to slash their prices Maduro effectively bankrupted them. Now, the only importers of electronic goods in Venezuela are those few who have an "in" with the right people and can get enough foreign exchange at the official rate to buy their goods.

As for Wednesday's demonstrations, it seems that certain masked persons on motorcycles in full view of the police (and, yes, that is true ... I have seen photographs taken by friends of mine at the demonstration) opened fire on the crowd!! And nobody has been arrested!!

Maduro will not last. That is clear. He can and will hold on, probably for another year to eighteen months, possibly less. But he is not going to be able to hold on for much longer. And the Cuban tactics of ruthless repression will not work in Venezuela. Unlike their Cuban counterparts, Venezuelans have enjoyed the good life in the not too distant past, and they know what it is to have free access to the internet (for example). Maduro is cracking down on the media in Venezuela and has effectively muzzled them, but Venezuelans have as many cell phones as the country has  people and text messages, Facebook, What's App, Twitter and other social media are being used all the time by everybody. How do you think, for example, that I got all this information? Nobody bothers any more with the television news or what the state controlled newspapers print.

The tragedy is that Maduro, like most despots, doesn't give a fig for the people that he purports to represent. All he cares about is that he stays in power. To this end he will lie, cheat, and even resort to murder to keep power. He is a terrible blight on the face of Latin America and a destroyer of what was arguably the most beautiful country in South America. Trouble is coming in Venezuela. You can see it; you can taste it; you can feel it. And when it does eventually come a lot of Venezuelans are going to die.


  1. Excellent piece! But there were more than 10,000 persons. There were close to 40,000. The march was to give support to students who had been arrested for protesting against Maduro's economic policies.

  2. Mr. Montano, you are right that we need to pay attention. When the bloodbath comes there will be a flood of Venezuelans coming over here seeking refuge.

  3. Mr. Montano my comment is brief mainly because when I saw the news on one of our newspapers, I was unable to read it properly but my first though was 'My God! And this is the same Venezuelan President who was so, so warmly 'embraced' by our PM when he came to our shores some time ago during a Summit'. Also his general demeanor as soon as he won the Presidency, was appalling, especially towards opposition.

  4. And the destruction continues. Since the date of your post more injuries and deaths have taken place in Venezuela. The students are being shot at and some are being killed. You are right! It is all about power!!

  5. I disagree with your analysis of the situation. I do not live in Venezuela but like brain drain that affects many developing countries, economic drain affects Venezuela. If the government introduces stringent economic measures the same people that are causing the hemorage of foreign currencies will scream that they are not allowed to move their monies where they deem necessary. The question is which of the two positions would the people, and I men the majority of people, most benefit from?? I would go with the current policy with a tighter control on economic activity between Venezuela and other countries.
    When we talk about protests and people losing their lives, I do not condone people losing their lives but protests can be played for foreign press coverage. When there were protest in NY about the economic disaster that happened there recently it was brutally supressed and nobody, internationally and certainly not in the local T&T press condemned it. What is this new found voice for freedom to demonstrate??