20 Days Remaining

Saturday 10th
posted by John Haylett in Features

by John Haylett

Please tell us it isn’t so. Is there no skulduggery to which the miscreants running the Bolivarian revolution in Venezuela will not stoop?

When Washington Times journalist Guy Taylor declared that President Nicolas Maduro was “clinging to power in a country on the edge of becoming a failed state,” people across the US could hardly disagree.

Forget the high crime rate or shortages of essentials such as toilet paper brought on by corporate hoarding and cross-border smuggling, but when McDonald’s franchises run out of potatoes for their world-infamous French fries, the situation is beyond serious.

Media agencies competed to find the most extreme vox-pop condemnations of this denial of humanity’s inalienable right to eat fast-food crap.

“It’s because of the situation here. It’s a total debacle,” said competition winner Maria Guerreiro in Caracas, lamenting her inability to give her two-year-old daughter a Happy Meal birthday treat.

Interestingly, McDonald’s didn’t, as might have been expected, blame economic mismanagement by the United Socialist Party (PSUV) government.

Once bitten twice shy, McDonald’s learnt its lesson in 2008 when tax and customs enforcement office Seniat closed all 115 outlets in the country for 48 hours as punishment for tax evasion.

So the transnational blamed US West Coast dockers in dispute over a new contract, although their action hasn’t affected potato exports to Venezuela’s neighbours.

Oh the shame of it, Venezuela’s would-be worshippers at the Temple of the Golden Arches have had to eat home-produced deep-fried arepa flatbreads or cassava chips instead of French fries.

In the Caribbean, the common spud is called Irish potato to distinguish it from sweet potatoes, but its origins lie not in Ireland but Latin America — Chile to be precise.

Why should McDonald’s restaurants in Venezuela import frozen chipped spuds from the US when they could be supplied more cheaply closer to home?

But that’s another story. If Venezuelans have to force down indigenous food to accompany their Big Mac, at least they could rely on the globally renowned Coromoto ice-cream parlour in Merida, with its unparalleled 863 flavours, couldn’t they?

Unfortunately not, because a sign on the shop door proclaimed its closure over the holiday period, when the temperature is around 24?C because of a shortage of milk.

“It’s false,” tweeted the Tourism Ministry on December 29, pointing out that Coromoto’s Portuguese owner was on holiday in his homeland while other ice-cream parlours had enough milk to function normally.

“Manuel da Silva is an opposition supporter, with every right to be so, except that he’s telling a lie and his action was planned, through the media, as part of the low-intensity war against the present government,” it said.

Hamburgers, French fries and 863 ice-cream flavours, including beer, may seem fairly trivial matters, but the furore kicked up in Venezuela and reflected through the international news agencies is part of a constant drip-drip offensive against the PSUV government.

Maduro classifies the onslaught as an “economic war,” noting the effect on output and inflation of last February’s violent opposition street occupations, smuggling and deliberately instigated shortages.

“Inflation is not a neutral number but is the result of an economic war,” he explained in his new year address.

Maduro pointed to recent comments by US President Barack Obama where he acknowledged co-ordinating attempts against Russia’s oil-based economy.

“Their goal is to destroy Opec and destroy oil prices, which will have other collateral effects that will be disastrous for the South, for the world. It is a war,” Maduro claimed.

Obama has also put into effect selective sanctions against Venezuelan officials named in legislation passed unanimously by both houses of Congress that supposedly identifies those guilty of repression of last February’s “guarimba” insurgencies.

National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello denounced the US sanctions as hypocritical in a New York Times op-ed article.

He berated Washington’s punishment of Venezuela’s supposed infringement of violent protesters’ human rights while “African-American communities across the US expressed outrage over police killings of unarmed black men.”

The collapse in world oil prices has certainly delivered a blow to Venezuela, having halved in the past six months and likely to fall further before they rise again.

It enjoyed average prices of $103.42 a barrel in 2012 and $98.08 in 2013 but now sees them hovering around $50.

Venezuela’s 2015 budget, which was set in October, proposed a 35 per cent rise in government spending based on a then conservative oil-price assumption of $60 a barrel.

However, the ongoing fall in oil prices has forced the president to implement a seven-point economic policy to invest in social programmes and infrastructure while combating smuggling more successfully, introducing a new currency exchange system and building a broad productive alliance, including special economic zones.

His visit this week to Beijing, where he secured over $20 billion in investment for social, developmental and industrial projects in a meeting with President Xi Jinping, will provide a vital breathing space for the economy.

Maduro’s subsequent visits to Iran and other Opec countries to prepare a renewed effort to “fight for fair oil prices” indicate that the Venezuelan president will do everything possible to confound the imperialist agencies’ gloating predictions of the Bolivarian revolution’s impending collapse.