Venezuela’s meddling military • Time for e-cigarette ads to butt out
In 1993, Venezuela had fewer than 50 generals; today it has more than 4,000. This kind of runaway inflation is every bit as pernicious as the economic variety that also afflicts the country. And the military is increasingly involved and invested in that economy.
In February, President Nicolás Maduro put the generals in charge of a new state oil-and-mining-services company, one of almost a dozen military enterprises started under his administration. Active or former officers head some one-third of Venezuela’s ministries and govern about half its 23 states. Service members have gotten big raises; preferential access to housing, cars, and food; and promotions. Officers have won lucrative contracts, exploiting currency controls and subsidies—selling cheap gasoline to Venezuela’s neighbors at enormous profit, for instance.
Maduro’s opponents should be uniting around a coherent plan to fix Venezuela’s imploding, military-controlled economy. Instead, the opposition is hellbent on removing the president from power, collecting some 2 million signatures on a recall petition. Maduro still has significant political support, and he’ll use his control of the executive and judicial branches to frustrate and delay that effort, which is unlikely to succeed this year. The opposition’s credibility has already been hurt by its rash boast that it would throw out Maduro within six months after taking over the legislature in January. It would be far better for the opposition to focus on winning votes for the election in 2019, when Maduro’s term ends.
One way to put the military back in the box is to make clear that misdeeds will face consequences. The U.S. is building cases against officers implicated in Venezuela’s burgeoning drug trade. It’s also targeted a handful of officials with asset freezes and visa bans for engaging in political violence and acts of public corruption. However, if the U.S. leads the charge, it would only validate Maduro’s anti-Yanqui narrative. So the U.S.
should quietly make clear that there’s plenty of room left on the targeted sanctions list and it will publicize credible information of corruption, criminality, and abuse.
The good news is that support for Chavismo is crumbling both from without and within. The U.S. opening to Cuba has erased a once-popular leftist talking point. Argentina’s changed leadership has stepped up criticism of Venezuela. And Maduro may have one less ally if Brazil’s Workers’ Party loses power.
Venezuelans are right to hold Maduro responsible for his economic mismanagement, which has resulted in blackouts, two-day government workweeks, and life-threatening shortages of medicines. But kicking the president out of office will not by itself end economic hardship and political dysfunction. That will also require getting the military out of business.