Nicolas Maduro’s ‘Caribbean engagement’ a flamboyant optic in autocracy
Two days before Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s visit to Saint Lucia he made the following pronouncements to his people. First he said, he was “doing everything to save the price and the stability of our oil” and second, "the price of oil in the world should have a base of US$70 per barrel to ensure greater stability”.
The optics of this is very well meant to message an impending visit to Saint Lucian on the 17 and the meeting in Austria on 21 October, along with member nations of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC countries, including Russia.
Maduro is clever to know that PetroCaribe is the starting point [to manipulate democracy] for advancing economic relations between the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean with an ‘idealistic’ global face.
The supply of oil is increasing while demand is levelling. China’s slowdown has deflated commodity prices and, with that, both exports and investment in South America remain weak, compounded with political uncertainty.
This is not surprising, as falling crude prices are consistently floating below the US$50 benchmark, rendering oil producers like Venezuela revenue timid, if not bankrupt, lacking a substantial reserve like Saudi Arabia.
Consequently Maduro’s call and offer of guidance is likely to fall on deaf ears, since he has little to no persuasion to battle oil cartels and global affairs, except to offer optics that hoodwink Caribbean governments.
Addressing the joint session of parliament in Saint Lucia, Maduro referred to “ALBA, PetroCaribe and CELAC as the new architect in the region to move forward and achieve all the successes that we enjoy today…a new integrated and productive economy, to transform these zone in a dynamic zone for investment for commerce.”
Further, Maduro’s concept of commitment to advancing the cause for the creation of a PetroCaribe economic zone is heading into the realm of deception that is likely to crash and burn under the weight of Venezuela’s economic underpinning in oil revenue that accounts for approximately 96 percent of Venezuela’s foreign income, consistently under US$50 a barrel.
Venezuela is in a recession and inflation remains the highest in the Americas but Maduro is unconcerned, mortgaging the future of his people using the declining resource economy [petrodollars] as a tool for ‘development overseas’. Faced with that reality it would have been more credible if Maduro’s speech had focused on present-day human rights violations, failed socialist policies, currency devaluation, rising poverty and economic weakness that threatens to destabilise both Venezuela and the region.
For nearly 35 minutes of Maduro’s speech, aggressive overlapping programs and coded agendas came across as a ‘presumptive’ power broker, with a well-founded reputation of extremism, seemingly wanting to keep the Caribbean region under lock and key, beholden to Venezuela for a very long time.
Which means transactions associated with ALBA, PetroCaribe and CELAC are meant to protect PetroCaribe’s share of the oil market, using that resource as a bargaining chip in petrocratic games and ideological diplomacy, posturing at times in being loud-mouthed and even militaristic.
Therefore, Maduro’s appeasements to Caribbean islands in the name of investment and commerce is but a zero sum game coupled with the liabilities of Caribbean countries under PetroCaribe agreements, apparently aimed to manipulate democracy as part of the unfinished business and adherence to Marxism-Leninism and alignment with the communist bloc.
- • St Kitts and Nevis: A loan agreement for US$5 million with the government of Venezuela through the state-owned oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA);
• Antigua and Barbuda’s proposed construction of the Simon Bolivar resort … “part of that economic paradigm in which we seek to introduce a form of entrepreneurial socialism”; West Indies Oil Company, of which the Venezuela government officially owns 25 per cent; utilizing the former US base as a base of peace, to be used to create what he referred to as a superior economic benefits… to advancing the cause for the creation of a PetroCaribe economic zone;
• St Vincent and the Grenadines airport development to which Venezuela has contributed more than US$85 million for the construction [US$50 million in loans from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) Bank at two percent interest for 20 years. US$25 million from PetroCaribe and equipment valued at US$10 million and credited with keeping Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves up all night [walking about in his flower garden] not knowing when the US will stop by to take a look at what’s inside secret underground shelters and questionable shipments of cargo;
• In Dominica, the construction of the Venezuela-funded EC$10 million abattoir ; rehabilitation of the two major ports at some US$13.5 million and towards those affected by Tropical Storm Erika Venezuela has donated 300 houses, known as ‘petrocasas’;
• Saint Lucia has received approximately $2.7 million of PetroCaribe grant funding for infrastructure projects and the construction of the ALBA Bridge.
Maduro’s flamboyant optics of autocracy is not just unwise in an already flammable geopolitical situation and the region’s security dilemma. It is an unwelcome expansion that is culturally wrong in a clash of visions, values and goals for regional integration; taking into consideration Maduro’s pledge to continue Chavez's political projects to build "21st century socialism", telling his supporters, "I am not Chavez, but I am his son."
On 6 December, the first parliamentary elections will be held in Venezuela since Maduro was elected president [in 2013]. In the normal attempt to battle democracy, several opposition leaders have been detained amidst protests, fighting to rescue a crisis economy, in widespread shortages of basic commodities, rising poverty, and socio-economic disaster.
In September, well-known opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was sentenced to 13 years and 9 months in prison. He was found guilty of inciting violence during widespread protests in 2014 in which 43 people were killed. Pleas from the US government and the United Nations for the release of opposition politicians have fallen on deaf ears.
Meanwhile, Maduro offers guidance at the joint session of parliament in Saint Lucia, saying, “We need to base our relationship on the principles of equality, respect, trust and solidarity.”
On Friday [16 October] Venezuela reached an agreement on a deal in principle to dump Guyanese rice in exchange for an agreement for rice imports from Suriname under the PetroCaribe agreement, forming the base of their bilateral relations.
While Venezuela's heightened aggression has intensified on claims to Guyana’s Essequibo region since American oil giant, Exxon-Mobil, announced a significant oil find offshore Essequibo in May, 2015; this has emboldened Suriname to revive the country’s claim to the New River Triangle that dates back to Dutch and English colonial times.
Through all of this, president of Guyana, David Granger, a retired general is calm, poised and calculating, opting to buy 100% of his oil from CARICOM nation, Trinidad and Tobago.
But, besides that, playing by the rules isn’t Maduro’s strong suit. His shenanigans and political fantasy are well rehearsed when he says, “I have come to learn… to give our brotherhood our true love,” yet undermines opponents’ ability to think critically for themselves.
The humiliating panorama is to make the poor cynical about democracy, believing that all they need is a strongman who will fix everything for them like Prime Minister Kenny Anthony; who sold Saint Lucians a blueprint for growth [jobs and economic prosperity] to get elected, only to renege, and replace it with Chavez's political projects to build "21st century socialism." And dependency on the Republic of China (Taiwan) grant funding, Constituency Development Programme, for political appeasement.
So far, Anthony and Maduro’s style of leadership models a destructive autocracy far better at accumulating power than executing reform and improving credibility. Both leaders are idealists that are plentiful in rhetoric and patient in principled stands that seem deliberately ill-advised.
Under their stewardship, blunders in economic policy has created enormous national debt, high taxes, huge deficits, record unemployment and inflation, declining trade, bloated bureaucracy and declining competitiveness. Yet in the light of contrast in economic weakness and mismanagement, chaos and hopelessness, emphasis is placed on politics first and the economy second.
In Saint Lucia’s socio-economic crisis, there is no clear divide between party, the diplomatic corps and government. It is all encompassing and has become a clumsy attempt within a conundrum of incompetence and impotence.
But regardless of the errors and mounting troubles, it seems Saint Lucia has made a choice with blatant contempt based on ideological preferences and fondness for Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro’s leftist ideology, which often leads to social deprivation and economic consequences, rather than seek economic rebalancing and structural reform for economic growth.
Maduro’s flamboyant truck driving techniques may have bewildered Anthony, a trained lawyer, with an impressive pedigree, absent a counter vision for Saint Lucia, with petrocratic gadgets and petrodollars.
The legacy of leaders was once accomplishment and reform but in the quest for a revolutionary legacy, a strategy that has not worked for the common cause now looks more like a misadventure. And one that comes at a time when acknowledging that promoting democratic revolutions ‘regime change’ can help to ask those who have caused this situation: Do they realize what they’re doing?
It is an enormous mistake that the optics of Maduro’s experience on "different battlefronts” is seeking to dream, work and rebuild Marxism-Leninism to ‘Caribbean engagement’.
What happens next will tell the inconvenient truth in not achieving that objective and risking further shaking of confidence in the fragile economies of the western hemisphere.
By Melanius Alphonse
Melanius Alphonse is a management and development consultant. He is an advocate for community development, social justice, economic freedom and equality; the Lucian People’s Movement (LPM) www.lpmstlucia.com critic on youth initiative, infrastructure, economic and business development. He can be reached at email@example.com