Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.
It seems pretty clear that there is dissension in the opposition ranks, which is not surprising since Chavez had been able to win and hold onto power so long largely because center-left and rightist opposition leaders to the socialist rule have been at each others throats, as they have been for decades before Chavez ever came on the scene.  The little known, young rebel Lopez is seeking to make a national name for himself as an opposition leader after being sidelined by Capriles, who doesn't want give any more space to hotheads who might also be contenders with him for the presidency some day. So although the protests are pretty organic and genuine, the real rebellion in this story is against Capriles' leadership of the opposition, not against Maduro.  

While Lopez is an obvious rightist, with some questionable connections to cloak and dagger types, I'm not sure the label applies to Machado at all.  The only dirt I've seen on her is a photo of a younger her shaking hands with President Bush during a White House tour a decade ago.  She earned the ire of Chavez when she won a grant from the National Endowment for Democracy -- you know, that nefarious, mainstream, US-funded NGO whose primary, and really only, activity is, horror of horrors, providing community organizing training to nonpartisan civil society groups and giving exciting instruction on how to manage corruption-free political activism and grassroots lobbying by applying basic financial reporting skills. It's a group run, almost since its founding nearly 30 years ago,  by a former executive director of Social-Democrats USA, that hotbed of neoliberal activity.

While economic malaise in Venezuela may be part of the genesis of the street protests, it is just one piece of an amazingly, but colorfully, incompetent public administration by Hugo Chavez's successor Nicolas Maduro. The reasons for Venezuela's lack of economic growth are not mysterious.  The country has frustrated even its potential allies and trade partners in China and Russia by not providing any re-investment to its dilapidated oil industry, whose production and exports have declined significantly since the peak oil era began, contrary to every other major oil producer in the world.  At the same time, inexperienced and poorly trained patronage bureaucrats have been in charge of setting prices for consumer goods which are supposed to limit annual profits to producers and merchants to around 10% but instead effectively make production impossible for many products, resulting in both unemployment and goods shortages, as occurred infamously in the toilet paper market several times during the past year.

Although Maduro's administration, and its cheerleaders in places like Weisbrot's column at the Guardian, have been quick to blame "foreign and oligarchy remnants" for hoarding, currency manipulation, and an odd scheme to smuggle toilet paper to Columbia (where it is apparently needed in great quantities, maybe?) for the goods shortages and economic malaise, once one considers how many billions of $USD one would need to burn in order to accomplish such ends over a sustained multi-year period since the late 2000's, such a conspiracy plot begins to to seem pretty ridiculous compared to the more obvious alternative explanation of government mismanagement of price controls and discouragement of private investment.

by santiago on Tue Feb 25th, 2014 at 12:36:19 AM EST

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