Why I kind of hope Maduro wins

On April 14, Venezuelans will head to the polls for the second time in just over five months to elect a president. This time, the choice is between current de facto president and anointed chavista dauphin Nicolás Maduro and Henrique Capriles Radonsky, the opposition governor of Miranda state and second-time candidate. While it’s obvious to anyone who has read anything else I’ve written que no soy ningún chavista, I have to admit that part of me hopes that Maduro wins, if only because, considering the state of the Venezuelan economy, it could be worse for the opposition (and in a longer-term sense, the country as a whole) to win now and be holding the reins when things fall apart.

The Venezuelan economy over the last 14 years has gone from being a semiproductive mess of patronage and government intervention suffering through low oil prices to a massively unproductive mess of even more patronage and government intervention buoyed, tenuously, by high oil prices. The combination of those factors has come to mean that, according to UN Comtrade, Venezuela’s oil exports account for more than 96% of its export earnings. A web of restrictions and onerous regulatory requirements exacerbate this as well as a currency so overvalued that a 45% devaluation in February still leaves the official dollar rate nearly four times as high as the black market. Even the engine of the Venezuelan economy, the oil sector, is creaking and in need of serious reform. A decade of being used as a political machine in addition to an oil company has taken a serious toll on PdVSA, whose production, even by its own admission has fallen each of the last three years, while total production in the country is stagnant. Simply put, the economy is overwhelmingly biased against non-oil sectors while the oil sector declines; a recipe for serious problems.

This only scratches the surface of the problems facing the economy. It seems unlikely that there won’t be some sort of reckoning between now and 2018 when the next elections are scheduled to take place and equally unlikely that even the most devoted reformer (which I’m not sure Capriles would be even if he had the political capital of a resounding victory) would be able to untangle the mess in time. The potential for the opposition to finally win back power after 15 years only to inherit the crisis chavismo created could be disastrous. Voters tend to vote on recent economic performance and many will remember the Chávez era as one of relative plenty. If winning now means that chavismo (and I’m off the opinion that sooner or later some charismatic politician will appropriate Chávez’s movement) gets to blame the opposition for the mess chavismo made, it could be better for both the country and the opposition if Maduro wins and has to deal with it.

This type of strategic interest feels more cynical than I think it actually is. I don’t believe chavismo capable of the reforms necessary to save Venezuela’s economy and I don’t think the opposition can push them through except if chavismo has been discredited. In effect, it’s the least bad option out of many terrible options.

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4 thoughts on “Why I kind of hope Maduro wins

    • There are two things I would say in response to this Marko. First, over the last decade, Venezuela earned somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 trillion dollars in oil revenues, which is about 2.5 times it’s current GDP at the official exchange rate, so ranking 15th in the region in growth looks less impressive and reducing poverty as well as Brazil (which had a much smaller commodity boom and ranked below Venezuela in average growth) seems like less of an impressive feat. Even if you take those as the types of achievements the author touts them as, is there any evidence its sustainable over even a 5-10 year time frame? With 20% inflation, a huge spike in crime and the total opacity of the management of aid programs, I’d put my money on no.

      Second, while the Lulas of the world may have liked Chávez as a person and enjoyed his rants against the US, they didn’t govern at all like him. Even the more radical of the “new leftist” leaders have governed within a much more orthodox economic framework than Venezuela. If imitation really is the highest form of flattery, you don’t see that much flattery. Even smaller countries who joined ALBA like Nicaragua seem to prefer more business friendly, market oriented policies, just punctuated with talk of solidarity in exchange for cheap Venezuelan oil.

  1. i’m writing this while firmly biting my tongue to keep me from lashing out. tim’s logic lies on rock-hard foundations and the fact that you linked to a mark weisbrot article lets me know several things:
    1. you have never read very much about venezuela,
    2. you don’t pay much mind to the importance of numbers,
    3. you think you are very cool by going against the mainstream and thinking “hey, this chavez guy might not have been so bad so let’s do some research and find the one american fool who defends him!” you know who else was big pals with mr. chavez? bashar el-asad, to name but one. he’s mighty thankful that he gets venezuelan diesel to fuel his russian weaponry to slaughter his people. so that’s the nice company you keep. ponder that.

    #rantover

    now, here’s just an example of how utterly useless maduro is (and will be) at dealing with the plethora of economic problems afflicting my country and making my family’s life much tougher every day. you may take electricity service for granted in whatever developed corner of the world you live.

    in venezuela electric service is a government monopoly and it isn’t taken for granted because thanks to the absolutely joke of a management job this government (now in it’s 15th year) has carried out, electricity is completely unreliable and spotty. we have an enormous amount of installed electric capacity and more than enough room in our transmission lines to provide service to the whole country. but this government – in its utter ignorance – does not understand basic economics and basic management.

    electricity prices have been frozen for years now, leading to ever increasing demand (in case you never took an economics course, price affects demand depending on a good’s elasticity, but that’s going in too deep probably). this increased demand leads to ever increasing pressure and strain on the country’s electric infrastructure leading to ever decreasing performance from our machinery, lines, towers, generators, etc, etc.

    now, can’t a bit of management and upkeep do something to ameliorate the situation? sure. but this government can’t even do that! investments in maintenance have dwindled to minuscule levels as the government uses its monies for political purposes (all those TV ads and political campaigns and vote-buying and favor granting don’t come cheap you know).

    so the government doesn’t raise electric service prices (for political reasons) and it doesn’t invest in its infrastructure (for political reasons). yet, people go to the switch and nothing comes out. they know the service is abysmal to say the least. the government knows people are upset at not being able to have their lights go on.

    so what does it do? blame the political opposition! of course! so logical! the system isn’t malfunctioning because of ever increasing demand (due to an ever decreasing relative price of the service) and poor maintenance. it’s the opposition’s fault! they go in the machinery rooms and cut the cables (or whatever it is you do to sabotage an electric plant).

    and what is it’s response? why send in the military to guard the plants of course! this happened yesterday, my friend. yesterday. the president announced he’s sending in the military to guard the electric plants against the opposition’s sabotage.

    trust me. i wish i were making it up.

    and notice i didn’t even have to make an argument against the absurdity of electric service being a government monopoly.

  2. Well with the deepest bitter taste that I could even feel, you are right… Maduro should win and finish what they “started”, I not sure he is going to “deal with it” and Im sure that it will not be dealt with in the correct way…. my hope rests in the fact that ALL of us reading this, need to prepare to go back home and build a better country than the one we remember as kids, for those generations to come, that don’t know better and I mean those generations, because its going to take a lot more than 1 generation to fix this massive disaster.

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