U.N. Should Recognize Maduro's Deadly Madness. His Opponents Should Engage It.

May 16, 2018

COMMENTARY

If there were any doubts about the deadly madness of Venezuela’s dictatorial socialist regime, they were erased this week by a stunning Reuters report:

Venezuela’s state-run oil firm PDVSA has bought nearly $440 million worth of foreign crude and shipped it directly to Cuba on friendly credit terms – and often at a loss….”

Keep in mind:

Oil-rich Venezuela, once one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, is suffering the world’s worst economic catastrophe today, a horrible vise of depression and hyperinflation. Venezuelans on average lost 24 pounds last year; their real monthly wage is about $1.68. By year’s end, an estimated 3 million people – a tenth of the population – will have fled Venezuela since 2015, because they can’t find enough food, medicine and other necessities.

Meanwhile, production at Venezuela’s decrepit state-run oil industry, which drills the world’s largest crude reserves, has plunged to 1949 levels. Venezuela’s foreign reserves, at $43 billion nine years ago, now sit below $10 billion.

READ MORE: Escape From Venezuela: Refugees Banging on Doors for Food - and World's Attention

And yet: Venezuela’s loon-in-chief, President Nicolás Maduro, insists on buying almost half a billion dollars’ worth of oil abroad and gifting it to Cuba, because the island is the holy shrine of his warped Marxist religion.

Because he cares more about Cuba’s preservation than about Venezuela’s starvation.

Which is why two things need to happen in the coming days, even though they probably won’t.

First, the U.N. should formally declare the massive exodus from Venezuela – at least the part that involves desperate migrants languishing in the border zones of Colombia, Brazil and other neighboring countries – a refugee crisis.

Two things need to happen in the coming days: The U.N. should recognize Maduro's deadly madness. And Venezuela's opposition should engage it.

I understand the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has its protocol for these things. I realize this isn’t a conventional refugee emergency caused by natural disaster or war, like Syria’s. But Maduro’s crazed destructiveness – and the real, often lethal violence his regime has visited on opponents and protesters in Venezuela – reflects a psychosis on par with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s.

It’s clearer now than ever that what Venezuelans are fleeing from is almost as menacing as war. Maduro and the socialist revolution he leads, while not unleashing missiles or chemical weapons on their people, have pitched political and economic neutron bombs. They may spare buildings but they destroy lives.

Our bond with South America here in South Florida makes us more aware of that. Still, the wrecked lives fleeing Venezuela require more international aid and attention than they’re getting – and could get if the U.N. raised their global profile with an official refugee declaration.

Second, the Venezuelan opposition should reconsider its boycott of this Sunday’s presidential election – even if the vote is rigged in favor of Maduro.

ECONOMIC MOONSCAPES

Maduro is certainly a whack and thuggish despot – but whack, thuggish despots need to be challenged. If not, they become whack, thuggish despots for life, and that’s what you invite when you stay away from the ballot box.

In the New York Times this week, Amherst College professor Javier Corrales cites studies showing election boycotts usually hurt opposition parties. Standing on the sidelines with your arms self-righteously crossed, waiting for the economic disaster to topple Maduro – it won’t work, Corrales argues, because most dictators know to how keep power for a long time even on economic moonscapes.

“We should be asking,” Corrales writes, “whether voting is better than doing nothing.” I think ultimately the answer is yes.

CHALLENGER OR CHUMP? Venezuelan opposition presidential candidate Henri Falcon (center) at a Caracas campaign event this month.
Credit Ariana Cubillos / AP via Miami Herald

Many in the Venezuelan opposition are staying home because they consider the major opposition figure who decided to run – former socialist Henri Falcón – a traitorous dupe who risks legitimizing Maduro's sham election.

I'm not so sure. With Falcón in the mix, there are two potentially useful scenarios if Venezuelans – three-fourths of whom can’t stand Maduro – do go out and vote.

First, Falcón loses by almost certain fraud. That at least causes the rest of the world to take the kind of notice it wouldn’t take if an opposition boycott were on – and the regime likely finds itself under heavier international pressure. Second, Falcón actually wins. Provided the regime actually concedes, Venezuela’s ruinous revolution starts becoming dismantled.

For both the U.N. and Venezuela’s opposition, arms-crossed responses are no longer an option. The first needs to recognize Maduro’s deadly madness. The other needs to engage it.