The current unpleasantness in Venezuela is overshadowed by the much bigger unpleasantness in Ukraine, but it remains unpleasant nevertheless. The leftish government of Nicolas Maduro is clamping down on non-leftish protesters, and the whole thing is likely to get worse before it gets better. The trouble is that any dispassionate observer knows who is at fault here, but unfortunately, that party is dead. Maduro was handed a mess of a country after Hugo Chavez ran Venezuela badly for years and then died.
This is a pattern we see throughout revolutionary and would-be revolutionary political movements. The old regime is unjust, ineffective and nasty. Those who love freedom, motherhood, apple pie (or the local equivalent) and puppies rise up, throw out the evildoers and the formerly oppressed live happily ever after. Except for the happily part.
The truth is that revolutionaries tend to be really bad at governing. Having forced their way into power, they are largely consumed with the idea of staying in power. They see counter-revolutionaries under the bed (sometimes, there is something to worry about), and they start to like the way power feels. They get distracted. Mikhail Bakunin, the great anarchist rival to Marx, noted that the vanguard party that leads the revolution very quickly becomes a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. The result is a lot of eggshells and no omelet.
That is what happened to Chavez, who led an unsuccessful military coup back in 1992. So lets start with that: Chavez was not a democrat by birth. However, after two years in prison, he was released, started a socialist party and won the presidency by election in 1998. I really hate drawing parallels with other dictators, but there have been a couple of guys in history trying to take power by force and failing, only to have it handed to them by the electorate later.
Anyway, in 1998, he became president and he would die in office in 2013. Apart from a couple of days when a coup was mounted against him, he was president that entire time. Anytime someone rules a country for 15 years, that individual is responsible for events in that nation. You get a pass for the first few months, maybe a year, but 15 years means your fingerprints are on everything.
And I think some of the things he did were laudable. Medical clinics in poor neighborhoods for instance come up on the credit side of the ledger. The problem is that he pissed away 15 years of oil wealth. The Central Bank of Venezuela itself says that from 1998 to 2008, oil exports brought in around $325 billion USD. Where did it go? I can tell you where it didnt go. It didnt go into electricity generation. In 2010, 12 years after he took office, Venezuela experienced rolling blackouts power cuts of four hours a day. And these were so poorly executed that some people had their juice cut off twice a day. The people got upset, and he relented a bit by suspending rationing in Caracas. Mobs any place else presented no threat to the regime.
It didnt go into diversifying the economy. It didnt go into any enduring infrastructure development. He did spend it on education, and literacy is high in Venezuela. The Revolutionary Reading Plan included works by Marx, Che Guevara and Simon Bolivar. In other words, education was valuable to remaining in power, so it received funds.
President Maduro inherited this failed revolution, and after a while in office, the people have decided he needs to go. He probably has the firepower to stay in the presidential palace if he wants. And I am sure there are fascists in the opposition movement who need a dose or two of grapeshot.
But in the end, Venezuela got shortchanged by Chavez, and that is the complete cause of the strife there. Someday, Maduro will leave office, either by a democratic process or a violent one. If he keeps this up, it wont be by democratic means. Nor should it.