“Neither side can impose itself on the other,” quoth Dimitris Pantoulas, a political scientist speaking to The New York Times on the current situation in Venezuela. Pantoulas is affiliated as a doctoral student with the University of Bath, but is currently a visiting scholar at Instituto de Estudios Superiores de Administración (IESA) in Caracas. We in the U.S. might be excused for mistaking the venue a foreign scholar’s comment was meant to describe.
In this country, reporters work under a torrent of abuse to write about a constant flow of “alternative facts” from the White House without adopting a tone that appears to justify the abuse. The sides are persons and institutions personally loyal to Donald Trump on one side and everybody else on the other.
In Venezuela, the sides are persons and institutions personally loyal to Nicolás Maduro Moros on one side and everybody else on the other. The violence that breaks out occasionally in the U.S. has become endemic in Venezuela, where the economy is as down as the U.S. economy is up.
In both this country and Venezuela, Vladimir Putin is a player on the side of the current government. Some reporters claim there was an airplane on the tarmac prepared to take Maduro to a safe exile in Cuba as violence ruled in the streets of the major cities. Putin, it is claimed, persuaded Maduro to fight rather than run.
Trump rallies take place on camera, so reporters are not necessary to observe his narrative that he is surrounded by treasonous scum intent on removing him from office with a reprise of the fraudulent votes that ran up Hillary Clinton’s totals. These evildoers keep Trump’s agenda stalled with court orders from corrupt judges. The FBI is a nest of dirty cops.
“Banana republic,” before it became a chain of clothing stores catering to yuppies, was a derisive term that seeped into political science from the days when Central American governments could literally rise or fall on the say-so of United Fruit Company. It has since generalized to describe unstable governments that revolve around persons rather than institutions.
The primary export of Venezuela is not bananas; it is petroleum. The U.S. has no need for Venezuelan oil nor does Russia. The U.S. is self-sufficient and Russia exports oil and gas. Venezuela is still a proxy battleground between adversaries who have no economic interest in anything it has to offer. Indeed, the “winner” of the confrontation will take on an economic liability with Venezuela’s economy in a shambles and the neighboring countries pleading that they can support no more refugees.
Every political scientist specializing in foreign affairs should be looking to answer this question: What is the bone of contention between the U.S. and Russia important enough to engage through proxies? Or is it just a very expensive habit left over from the Soviet Union and the Cold War?
I never bought the Cold War being about capitalism v. socialism, let alone communism. Autocratic governments can agree to leave each other alone, but introduce a democratic government and it no longer matters what the people at the top think — the autocracies begin to bleed. The Iron Curtain was a metaphorical barrier; the Berlin Wall was a physical barrier. The fundamental truth of the Cold War was which way people would run if the barriers disappeared — the same direction they were running in spite of the barriers.
When Mr. Putin disrupts democracy in the U.S. and in the E.U. and defends the Maduro government in Venezuela, his agenda is not economic. His response to that observation would be to point out how NATO expanded after the fall of the Soviet Union. Putin’s rebuttal would persuade anybody who had not read the NATO treaty and was not aware of NATO’s deployments of military force since it was founded. Not many foreign policy players fall into that category besides Donald Trump.
With Mr. Putin’s thumb on the scales, Venezuela joins the United States as a nation of divided government, where neither side can impose itself on the other.