In spite of the title, it is still difficult to make sense of what is happening in Venezuela. Dr. Canache explained the history of the democracy in the country and its progression to an authoritarian state. However, she pointed out that there is a solid portion of the population that clings to the hope of restoring democratic practices. Since she has family who still reside in Venezuela, she knows first-hand that there are many elements within Venezuelan society that are willing to fight to restore the fragile democracy of its not-so-distant past.
However, Dr. Canache also pointed out that the path to the restoration of democracy is rife with economic roadblocks. Once a thriving economy that enjoyed growth from its vast oil reserves, the leadership of Hugo Chavez and his successor, the current president Nicholas Maduro, led to corruption along with nationalization of the major industries in the country, including the energy resources. With several figures in the upper levels of the military among this privileged group of leaders, it is not surprising that socialism has not produced the egalitarian state it once professed, but rather an authoritarian state where the political power and economic wealth rest in the hands of a few who are supported by the military.
With ten million percent (!) inflation projected for this year, it is not surprising that a growing number of people have fled to neighboring states. The chronic lack of food and medicines and extended electricity outages have raised the rate of infant and child mortality and reduced life expectancy. In addition, the level of political unrest continues to mount. Juan Guaido, leader of the National Assembly, has attempted to use a clause in the Venezuelan constitution to assume the post of president, but he has not yet been successful. The potential for full civil war is unmistakable, and the potential regional unrest caused by mass migration bears watching.
Dr. Canache addressed questions about the influence of Cuba and Russia. She noted that while relations with Cuba are long and deep, Cuba is not in a position today to offer the kind of support they did in the past. Russia’s connection is more nebulous as it is difficult to say whether they have real interests in assisting Maduro or whether they merely want to deter US involvement. While a US invasion would be welcomed by a large portion of the population in her country, she commented that financial assistance would likely be better received by the broader region.
Dr. Canache remembered the way Venezuela used to be in the 1970s and 1980s. She concluded that a great deal of work and time will have to pass before the country of her birth will be able to restore its political and economic footing, but that it is not impossible.