Mark Falcoff: Venezuela’s forthcoming elections

Occasional contributor Mark Falcoff is resident scholar emeritus at AEI. He is the the author, among other books, of Modern Chile, 1970-1989: A Critical History and Cuba the Morning After: Confronting Castro’s Legacy. Mr. Falcoff sorts out some of the underlying themes in Venezuela’s forthcoming elections:

As anyone who’s been following events in Venezuela with even half an eye knows, provisional president Nicolás Maduro (named by the late strongman Hugo Chávez as his chosen successor) has been talking as if the sovereignty of the country depends on his election in a few weeks. Before the late president’s body was quite cold, Maduro was making noises about how the CIA or some agency of the US had infected the former with cancer, and turned aside conciliatory messages from our eunuch-like State Department (even though it sent an official, if low-level, delegation to the funeral). The degree of anti-American hysteria in the Venezuelan official media has reached the point where it would seem that the US, rather than Capriles (or someone else) is going to be on the ballot against Maduro.

I’ve known Venezuela for forty years and traveled there many times. I would have regarded as one of the more pro-US, or at least US-oriented countries in the region. Of course, there were historical reasons for this. We never occupied the country (as in the case of Cuba, Haiti or the Dominican Republic); we never invaded it or won slices of its territory through war (as in the case of Mexico); we supported its (flawed but dynamic) democracy for a half-century, and even the dictatorship to which we turned a blind eye in the 1950s was later ideologically vindicated by Chávez himself. Moreover, we provided Venezuela with a large, stable and productive market for its only important export–oil.

So I have been wondering these last ten years why all of a sudden has anti-Americanism become the currency of regime discourse..

Of course part of the reason is obvious–a need to distract ordinary people from shortages of food and medicine, the high (and rising) homicide rate, the rapid deterioration of roads, bridges and other elements of infrastructure, the lush corruption and so forth.

But I think the more important reason is envy. Not envy of the United States, but envy of “white” Venezuela–the people who speak English, went to school in the United States, probably have homes and children there, and move back and forth between the two countries with ease. This group was not enormous but it was larger than in most Latin American countries, and more conspicuous.

One might even say that the major social divide within the middle class in Venezuela was between those who spoke English well and those who did not. The obvious inequalities of the society (not to mention the corruption) was associated with that elite, and by default, with the United States. The presumption seemed to be that if the US could be factored out of the Venezuelan imagination, the country would find itself and be truly sovereign for the first time in its life. To be sure, this is a fantasy, but an understandable one given Venezuela’s unconfessed inferiority complex.

Chávez wanted people to be proud of their country as it was, not regard it as a slum-level copy of Southern Florida. To do this he had to humiliate the people whose values and lifestyles had long been held up as the index of happiness and success. Anti-Americanism in Venezuela is nothing personal; it’s not about us, it’s about them.

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