With the Maduro regime struggling to hold power in the face of violent protests that have dragged on for months, the US media has talked about the Latin American country quite a bit lately. Trump has made it clear that the United States is in support of the revolutionaries working to overthrow Maduro. The US has also imposed harsh sanctions on the country in an attempt to financially and economically starve Maduro and force him to give up.
What’s odd is that when you compare the US and Venezuela, a lot of similarities come to light. Venezuela used to be one of the wealthiest countries on earth, like the US is now. In the 1950s, out of all the countries in the world, it made the top five in per capita GDP. From 1952 to 1958, during the rule of dictator Pérez Jiménez, the economy soared and he became one of the richest men in Latin America. He also couldn’t stand criticism and harshly berated anyone who spoke out against him. Sounds a lot like the way Trump acts now, doesn’t it?
The Venezuelan economy stayed strong into the ‘80s and had the best economic growth in all of Latin America before things went south. Soon, Pérez’s method of running the country and its economy began to fall apart. For too long a relatively few families had hoarded all of the profits and grew incredibly rich while everyone else suffered. This could easily be compared with the richest 1% in the US having more wealth than the bottom 90%.
Since economic statistics used to determine growth/strength are presented in favor of the wealthy the true health of the nation is often hidden by positive profit reports. When the 1% is making money the GDP stats will show good overall growth, even when the other 90% are not really benefiting from it. Venezuelan statistics were no exception and showed off its economic wealth while the lower classes suffered, including the middle class. The gross inequality was impossible to ignore. Similarly, in the present, 7/10 of the richest people in the world are from America while more than 40 million people in the US are living close to or below the poverty line.
The Venezuelan people showed that they were not going to take any more and voted for Hugo Chavez who was seen as a new, different candidate that offered hope and change. The US similarly voted for Barack Obama, who also offered hope to the US populus that was fed up with big business and 8 years of corrupt republican leadership under Bush and Cheney which led to an unpopular war and continued income inequality. But Obama was unable to bring America out of its slump and instead dealt with a recession while trying to do some good for the nation with things like Obamacare. Similarly, Chavez was also not able to rescue Venezuela from it’s recession while fighting political and business corruption.
Enter Trump and Maduro; two leaders with a surprising amount in common besides just being elected after popular, hopeful leaders. For starters, both leader’s elections were won under circumstances many argue as unjust. Trump lost the popular vote but won thanks to the electoral college, a system many argue as undemocratic and rigged, while Maduro was accused of using unconstitutional means and a “sham electoral system” to maintain an unlawful presidency. Both have also been accused of being corrupt and of making backroom deals that benefit their business interests.
But the similarities don’t stop there. Both leaders also made similar moves with their country’s militaries. Maduro sent the military to the Colombian border to halt supply trains while Trump sent the US military to the Mexican border to stop immigrants. Both claimed that it was in the interest of stopping threats to national security.
Am I saying that the US is heading down the same path as Venezuela? Not quite, but it should serve as a warning. Venezuelans, back when their country was at the top of Latin America, would never have believed that their country would dissolve into the terrible state that it is in now. And it’s not just Venezuela. Other countries, like Germany, serve as an example of how a single leader can turn a country into something awful. Never underestimate the ability of a large, ignorant population led by a corrupt tyrant with a silver tongue that cares little for the people’s welfare behind closed doors.