Is the Venezuelan Opposition’s Call for Referendum on Maduro a Push to Overthrow the Government?

StoryOctober 28, 2016
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Clashes broke out in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas Thursday as the country’s increasingly militant opposition stepped up efforts to oust President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition leaders have called for a national strike today and a march to the Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on Thursday, unless the election board allows for a stalled referendum to recall Maduro. Last week, Venezuela’s Electoral Council blocked a drive for the referendum, citing fraud. “They’re not really fighting for a referendum anymore. They’re fighting to overthrow the government,” argues our guest Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. His latest article for Truthout is “Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Does It Mean That the Left Has Failed?” All of this comes as the country is grappling with a massive economic crisis, which has led to shortages of food, medicine and other necessary goods.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We end today’s show in Venezuela. On Thursday, clashes broke out in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas as the country’s increasingly militant opposition stepped up efforts to oust President Nicolás Maduro. Opposition leaders have called for a national strike today, unless the election board allows for a stalled referendum to recall Maduro. Last week, Venezuela’s Electoral Council blocked a drive for the referendum, citing fraud. Meanwhile, Maduro has lambasted the opposition-led National Assembly, likening them to zombies.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier this week, the opposition-led Legislature voted to put President Maduro on trial. At times, scuffles broke out on the floor of the National Assembly as opposition lawmakers accused Maduro of breaking the constitutional order. The vote is seen as largely symbolic, as the Venezuelan government and Supreme Court have declared Congress illegitimate. All this comes as Venezuela is grappling with a massive economic crisis, which has led to shortages of food, medicine and other necessary goods.

For more, we’re going to Washington, D.C., to Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research and president of Just Foreign Policy. His new book, Failed: What the Experts Got Wrong About the Global Economy. His latest piece in Truthout, “Venezuela’s Economic Crisis: Does It Mean That the Left Has Failed?”

We only have a few minutes here, Mark, then next week we’re bringing you back to have a debate on Venezuela. But what do you feel is most important to understand this week?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, I think it’s important to understand that dialogue is really the only solution. You have a divided government. You have—the executive is controlled by the Chavistas, and the National Assembly is the opposition. And so, they have to reach some compromise. I don’t think it’s about the referendum, really, because that train has already left the station. That’s a moot issue, because it’s impossible at this point to have a referendum before January 10th, which means if they actually do have one and Maduro is voted out, you just get the vice president. So they’re not really fighting for a referendum anymore. They’re fighting to overthrow the government. And I think it’s very important to understand this, because the opposition has always been divided, all the way back, you know, since the 2002 military coup, between people who want to overthrow the government and people who want to work for a peaceful solution.

You have that division today, and you have the U.S., which plays a major role, even though it’s never talked about here in the United States. It’s kind of like talking about, you know, Ukraine and never talking about Russia, never mentioning Russia. And I think that’s a big part of the equation, as well. And our government is kind of on the offensive in Latin America. You know, they got Argentina back. They got Brazil. They’re using the international bodies to try and isolate Venezuela, and they want to get Venezuela back, too. And so, you’re going to see, I think, a more aggressive posture from our government after this election.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Mark, given the fact that Venezuela is sitting on the world’s largest oil reserves, why do—what’s at the root of the economic crisis and the problems that the country has had over the last couple of years?

MARK WEISBROT: Yeah, well, that’s what I’ve mostly written about. You know, I don’t—I should say, I don’t defend anything that this government does that’s wrong. I’ve never done that in the past 15 years. I’m also—full disclosure: I’m a member of the economic team of UNASUR, which is headed by the former president of the Dominican Republic, Lionel Fernández. And so, this team of economists put together a proposal in the past few months to revitalize and restart the economy. And I think that’s the major problem. I think the government has made very serious mistakes and needs very serious reforms to rejuvenate the economy. Most importantly, they’ve got to fix the exchange rate system. You know, you can’t have this black market that’s a hundred times the main official rate for the currency. You know, it just encourages corruption, all kinds of distortions and problems. And then, of course, you’ve got to get, you know, rid of some of the price controls. We made a whole set of recommendations. But it is possible to do this in a way that doesn’t hurt the majority of the people. You can subsidize them for food directly, rather than trying to do it through the exchange rate as they’ve been doing for the past decade. And so, there—it really is—the economy has already adjusted, mostly, to the lower oil prices. They’ve cut imports by 50 percent since 2012, which is enormous. I mean, even Greece has, you know, only done about half that in six years of depression. So, they had a huge—the hard part is done. They just—they need to fix the relative prices, the exchange rate system, and make sure that everybody—and get rid of the shortages, which means removing a lot of the price controls.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And this whole—we have about a minute left—this whole issue of—actually, 30 seconds—this whole issue of the courts declaring the Legislature illegitimate?

MARK WEISBROT: Well, there is a fight over that, because there are several legislators for which—you know, who the courts have and the Supreme Court has determined are not legitimately seated there. So, that’s a fight. And they have to resolve that in some way.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you, Mark, and we’re going to have you back next week to have a debate on Venezuela. Thanks so much for being with us, Mark Weisbrot.

Well, on Saturday morning, I’ll be at the New York Press Club’s 2016 Journalism Conference at 9:00 a.m. at the NYU Kimmel Center. Check our website for more information.

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