Critique of a Greg Grandin piece on Venezuela

Overall Greg Grandin wrote a good piece about Venezuela but there are a few significant weak spots in it.

His [Maduro’s] poll numbers are low, though not significantly worse than those of the presidents of Brazil and Colombia.

Not “worse” at all actually. They are quite a lot better – actually remarkable given the enormous economic crisis. Maduro has been between 20-24% according to the opposition aligned pollster Datanalisis, which is where it was 2 months before Maduro’s allies won 41% of the vote in the 2015 National Assembly elections.

That is way better than the presidents of Brazil (10 percent), Colombia (16 percent), and Mexico (15 percent) as Mark Weisbrot pointed out in this piece:

In fact a lot of recent polls have put Michel Temer, Brazil’s unelected president, at well below 10%

Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime.

Venezuela has an extremely high homicide rate, so any government can, with significant plausible deniability, crackdown on political opponents by using it as cover. 

However, Miguel Rodriguez Torres, a former minister of the interior who is now a bitter opponent of Maduro’s, was removed from his post by Maduro shortly after a raid killed chavista militants.  Another wrinkle is that informally armed groups, no matter how “political” they profess to be, can lurch into criminal activity.

Moreover, it is still very clear from the polls, election results, and the location of the hot spots of the protests that it is overwhelmingly the privileged classes in revolt against Maduro.

Chávez died on 5 March 2013, and oil prices, as if liberated from some obligation, collapsed. Venezuela’s economy began to spiral out of control.

That’s not true. Oil prices didn’t fall significantly until about November of 2014 – about a year and a half after Maduro was first elected.

Oil 1

The economy did slow a few months before Chavez’s death. It ran into problems because Jorge Giordani (another former minster turned bitter critic of Maduro) cut back on the amount of US dollars issued to private businesses. That set off the back market exchange rate spiral which the government has never contained ever since. The collapse in oil prices late in 2014, by reducing the government’s access to dollars, made the black market spiral vastly worse. The back market exchange rate is what has driven inflation through the roof. 


However, in December of 2013, eight months after Maduro was first elected, his allies won a decisive victory in local elections. Oil prices were still high enough to contain the damaging black market spiral that Giordani had set into motion – enough for the government to still prevail in those elections. A few months after those elections, in February of 2014, the opposition launched violent protests to overthrow Maduro led by the Leopoldo Lopez faction of the opposition.

As I wrote here, I think there is a strong case that Maduro has not made necessary reforms for fear of been seen by his base as siding with  “the privileged classes against the masses” and has probably waited for an oil price recovery to save him politically. 



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