The suffering of Venezuelans are real, and a quick fix to the country’s problem is desirable… Inviting the military as part of the solutions to these problems raises the important question of whether a democracy is better midwifed by a violent assault on the state, however, illegitimate that state is?


The “recent” crises in Venezuela have been through three distinct stages — that is if it were at all possible to describe human activity with any such precision. Two important lessons and a major question have been presented at each of these stages for managers of frontier and emerging economies such as ours.

The four years between 1999 and 2013 is clearly one such stage. This stage commenced, not with the election in 1998 of Hugo Chávez as president. But with the convention of a Constituent Assembly in 1999; and the launch of the “Bolivarian Revolution”. Socialist? Populist? A mishmash of both? However you designate it, the “revolution” sought to do three things. To help the poor. To help similarly situated countries, especially in south America. And through both these programmes, but especially through the latter, cock a snook at Yanqui imperialism.

It helped that global oil prices were high all through this period. And so, it was easy for the Chávez government to finance its ambitious social intervention agenda. Moreover, few can argue against the fact that Venezuelans benefitted from programmes aimed at improving adult literacy, providing remedial education for high school dropouts, and providing free comprehensive and community health care. Of doubtful utility was the provision of high-quality seedlings for farmers and food at below market prices. As with the glad-handing of crude oil to favoured countries, this latter interfered with the efficient allocation and consumption of Venezuela’s scarce resources.

I have heard arguments to the effect that the provision of crude oil at below market prices to countries like Cuba, and Jamaica were crucial if the Bolivarian Revolution was to be protected from hostilities from the United States.


Without doubt, the biggest failure of this period was from the Chávez administration’s indifference to investment in the economy, needed to drive productivity up, and without which the financing of his social engineering programmes would have grown increasingly difficult. I have heard arguments to the effect that the provision of crude oil at below market prices to countries like Cuba, and Jamaica were crucial if the Bolivarian Revolution was to be protected from hostilities from the United States.

In a sense, this argument finds validation in the help provided by Cuba in sustaining the Nicolás Maduro administration, thus far. Nonetheless, if the lessons from Hugo Chávez’s intervention in the Venezuelan economy are clear, the ones from the Maduro administration are urgent. Even Nigeria, as addicted to oil export earnings as it is, is no longer likely to argue (as it once did in the 1970s) in the face of rising oil prices that “money is not our problem; but how to spend it”. We were better off then to have invested in boosting domestic productivity than to have tarred highways in the Bahamas.

Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s current president, presents a rank lesson in ensuring that the leadership of any country, especially a frontier or emerging one, is not the most inept on offer. Especially when buoyant oil prices are no longer available to buy off significant segments of the population, or to suborn international opinion. The failure of the Chávez administration to invest in its oil production capacity was always going to haunt the government’s successor. But Maduro’s unwillingness to listen to his people’s gravamen, including by rigging elections in his favour, have turned an economic crisis into a social one.

…Guaidó’s initiatives appear to come off the chapter of accidents that have preceded it. Or how else does one characterise the events in the country, last week, when it appeared that Juan Guaidó was goading the military into taking over?


A social crisis from which Juan Guaidó — current president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, and president of the country, according to the constitution, in the event of stolen elections like the one that Maduro presently leans on — and his cohort may yet profit from. Still, Guaidó’s initiatives appear to come off the chapter of accidents that have preceded it. Or how else does one characterise the events in the country, last week, when it appeared that Juan Guaidó was goading the military into taking over?

The suffering of Venezuelans are real, and a quick fix to the country’s problem is desirable. As, indeed, it is for those neighbouring countries that have borne the brunt of the forced emigration of Venezuelans. Inviting the military as part of the solutions to these problems raises the important question of whether a democracy is better midwifed by a violent assault on the state, however, illegitimate that state is? However this question is answered, one thing is beyond dispute, once it has tasted power, it is nearly always difficult to get the military to return to the barracks.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.