-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Hunger and misery spell the end of every revolution. The sufferers, for the sake of survival, will seek whatever means are avaible to break the chains that bind them.

It is one thing for a government to be oppressive, repressive and contemptuous of basic rights. Unpleasant as such conditions are, they are tolerable for many. What can't be accepted is a scarcity of basic goods in shops and supermarkets. That's when regimes crumble. And that, right now, is the story in the Venezuela of President Nicolás Maduro.

In spite of his boastful talk about the "Bolivarian Revolution," which Maduro barely understands, Venezuelans are looking for a way to rid themselves of a government whose ignorance and thievery have effectively wasted, or compromised for years to come, the country's formidable oil revenues — money that will be very difficult to recover.

We Colombians should appreciate the precarious state in which our neighbors and relatives have been living in recent years. We are bound by ties of freedom, blood and love, and separated only by a border.

Venezuela's geopolitical situation began to deteriorate in the early years of the reign of Hugo Chávez (1999-2013) as he sought to rebuild Venezuela on "Bolivarian" foundations. Honestly, not even Chávez believed in the future of his program, and it wasn't long before his policies provoked dissent in the political class that has been at the helm of Venezuelan democracy and public life since independence in the 19th century.

The petrodollars that served the socialist regime also began to cause disruption across Latin America. Wherever the caudillo went, he arrived with a briefcase full of the oil money that has helped forge such entities as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, ALBA, as it's known in Spanish.

Military patience

These kinds of trade associations may well fall into disuse due to the critical states of their current budgets, but also because of Cuba's decision to restore diplomatic ties with the United States. Venezuelan money has so far financed ALBA and other regional trade blocs to the zinging tune of some $70 billion per year.

Demonstrations in Caracas. Photo: Carlos Diaz

The crisis in Venezuela is undoubtedly having a serious impact on other Latin American states, and has particularly affected the Andean Community of Nations (CAN), which includes Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru and Colombia. The Ecuadoran government, for example, is violating basic CAN trading norms because of a recent decree imposing tariffs of 21% on products imported from Colombia and Peru. 


As oil prices fall and Venezuela has far less money available for its own development, Ecuador — a kind of economic protectorate of socialist Venezuela — is starting to show signs of economic instability and may seek to extricate itself from CAN alliance.

Restoration of ties between the U.S. and Cuba will also, soon, make itself felt across the continent, impacting regional trading relations and likely damaging Cuban ties with Venezuela. All eyes will be on Maduro to see if he insists on perpetuating his government come hell or high water, which in this case means a deepening recession, shortages, a breakdown of productive capacities and the looming specter of dire poverty and hunger.

Venezuela's deterioration began when Chávez decided days after taking power to obstruct longstanding trade with Colombia by subjecting exports to rigorous controls. An array of natural products spoiled in the heat and could not continue toward their markets. His decision in 2006 to undermine the special relationship between Venezuela and Colombia prompted the closure in both countries of thousands of factories with a long history of cross-border trade.

I believe that was the beginning of the end for the ill-termed Bolivarian Republic, as it opted instead to buy basic products from countries like Chile and Argentina, which had no inclination to export through Andean integration mechanisms. Logically, their products arrived at Venezuelan ports with inflated prices.

So many things have added up to deprive the Maduro government of any semblance of international credibility. His recent tour, which was intended to bring around Venezuela's erstwhile friends and Chávez-era petrodollar recipients, seems to have yielded little. Venezuela has already stopped being the benefactor of noble causes at the expense of everyday Venezuelans, who must now struggle thanks to all those years of generosity.

The Maduro government is at a crossroards, and the armed forces are aware they cannot keep suppressing people's justified protests. Our respect and admiration should presently go to the former candidate and coordinator of opposition forces, Henrique Capriles. His cause is that of the Venezuelan people and the majority of their Colombian brethren.