Sanctions on Venezuela? Not so fast

Reuters was reporting this weekend that among the many other pots the White House has bubbling away on the stove, President Trump is considering imposing new sanctions on Venezuela. The nation is currently crumbling under the cruel, yet inept fist of President Nicolas Maduro and protests are engulfing all the major cities. But our President is looking at specifically targeting the nation’s energy sector.

The Trump administration is considering possible sanctions on Venezuela’s vital energy sector, including state oil company PDVSA, senior White House officials said, in what would be a major escalation of U.S. efforts to pressure the country’s embattled leftist government amid a crackdown on the opposition.

Sanctions are often the go-to, first response of the United States to despotic regimes when we want to exert some influence and bring them into compliance with accepted international expectations of human rights and civil behavior. Their efficacy over the decades has been rather hit and miss, but in some cases it’s worked out fairly well. Also, it’s nearly always better than a military solution… at least as an opening gambit. But when it comes to Venezuela this is not the case. Tim Worstall at Forbes offers his own rationale as to why we need to keep our fingers off the sanctions trigger.

Donald Trump’s administration is reportedly considering economic sanctions against Venezuela, something I consider an extremely bad idea. Yes, the situation there is disastrous but we should and must let the nonsense that is Bolivarian socialism run its course. Not in the sense that Venezuelans deserve anything of the chaos and poverty engulfing them but we need to stay away from any action that allows our own idiot socialists to shout that it could have worked if it weren’t for the Yanqui imperialist economic war or whatever. The disaster that is befalling the country was not imposed from outside, it is not because of anything we have done, it’s an inevitable outcome of the economic system that was put in place by first Chavez and then Maduro. The way to–aid at least–in inoculating our own economies from such nonsense is to leave it be, to show that it just does not work and any failure is not because the capitalists this or that. It fails on its own for its own internal reasons.

I’d like to start by saying that I don’t disagree with anything Tim puts forward here (and you should read his full explanation and historical perspective to truly appreciate it) and we have arrived at the same conclusion, but for different reasons. The author makes an excellent point in saying that we should allow the government to fail under its own weight as a lesson to everyone else, particularly the socialist leaners in our own nation, as to how socialism always ends. Putting our thumb on the scale in either direction destroys that purpose. If we “oppress” Venezuela with sanctions, our own socialists will blame us rather than Chavez and Maduro for its downfall. If we give them too much aid and save them, they’ll claim it’s a validation of socialist ideology.

But there’s another aspect to the horrid drama playing out in Caracas to consider. Maduro, like the madman who came before him, desperately needs to have an external enemy to point to. It’s the only way that he might be able to shift the blame and win back the support of at least some of his rioting citizens, giving them a common enemy to rally against. It’s a tool which Chavez used to great effect when he painted George W. Bush in the role of Satan. We should not give him that weapon to use in his battle.

Also, the sanctions under discussion wouldn’t even be particularly effective to begin with. Sanctioning the state owned oil company is pointless because it is already failing and the people of Venezuela know who the culprits are. A group of bureaucrats in even a relatively benign dictatorship lack the skills to operate something that complex. (And our government wouldn’t do much better at it, believe me.) And the Maduro regime is far from benign. They’ve been robbing the oil industry blind to line their own pockets to the point where they can’t pay their workers or afford replacement parts and maintenance for the equipment. They are sitting on an ocean of oil and are only able to produce a tiny fraction of what they should be pumping.

This is the same as their agricultural industry which we previously discussed. The most inept farmer could get almost anything to grow in that soil and climate, but their farms lie fallow because of forced price fixing which drove the farmers out of business combined with the robberies committed by roving gangs of thugs and government mercenaries.

Rather than sanctions, if we are to make any modification to our current policies I would suggest a change in how we deliver limited food aid to the country. Don’t let the government handle it. (They’ll just steal most of it anyway.) Find ways to airlift or have third parties drive in deliveries of food and basic medicines and drop them in the middle of the areas where protests are taking place. Splash big American flags on the crates and let everyone know where the goods are coming from. And then leave. This will remind the citizens who the real enemy is and who their potential friends might be. Let them oust Maduro themselves, set up their own replacement elections and begin doing business with the people who actually helped them. Yes, it will be a bloody process and a dark chapter in their history, but they may come out the other side with a slightly better understanding of the world at large and a chance at success.

Who knows? We might even spur the beginnings of some interest in capitalism among some of them. Social evolution is a slow process but you’ve got to start somewhere.