Response to the Ron Paul crowd on Venezuela, Part 1

By Zach Foster

Part 1: Follow the Constitution!

A renowned Venezuelan journalist recently wrote that Venezuelans have become the victims of political appropriation. The term directly pokes fun at ‘cultural appropriation’ wherein somebody in a position of privilege–say, a Hollywood celebrity–uses that privilege to present their idea of what a particular culture is, without ever consulting anyone from the culture they’re knocking off.  

Great examples of this are St. Patrick’s Day and Drinko de Mayo. Another good example is the rich yuppies with the wine glasses and Che Guevara t-shirts who still have no idea the Tankies are coming for them first.

Using these terms to draw a colorful parallel, Venezuelans today are victims of political appropriation, wherein people around the world hijack the Venezuelan crisis to use as a weapon to fight their political battles at home. Republicans want to make it about Bernie Sanders and AOC while Democrats (and a few Libertarians) want to make this about Donald Trump and the neocons.

What about Venezuela’s Libertarians?

In recent weeks, hit pieces portraying Juan Guaido as simply a US-backed coup have been published by the Ron Paul Institute, the Mises Institute, the Libertarian Institute, and Liberty Conservative News.

However, no one, not one person associated with these brands, ever bothered to reach out to interview any of our libertarian brothers in the Libertarian Movement of Venezuela, Mises Institute Venezuela, Bastiat Society Venezuela, or Students for Liberty Venezuela, to ask them their interpretation of who’s behind the crisis, who’s legally the president, or what they think both as libertarians and Venezuelan people living under this nightmare.

Reaching out to Venezuela’s libertarians may not have occurred to most of the above named think tanks, but Daniel McAdams of the Ron Paul Institute has wholeheartedly refused multiple overtures from different groups to get him to talk with Ron Paul’s political students in Venezuela. (The Free Beacon offers details on how much of McAdams’ career and those of several others at the Ron Paul Institute has been bankrolled by the Russian government. As a Rothbardian libertarian, I distrust groups and individuals funded by any government, not just the US government.)

In the context of political appropriation, some American libertarians have erased the experience of Venezuelan libertarians because they want to attack Donald Trump and John Bolton, while others ignore Venezuelan libertarians because they want to attack Libertarian Party Chairman Nick Sarwark. I’m not offering an opinion on Sarwark’s chairmanship, only the observation that people are ready to dehumanize and weaponize Venezuela to further a domestic factional struggle. Please find another way, folks.

This is what I believe to be the correct libertarian position: None of us Libertarians supporting Venezuelans’ popular struggle against Nicolas Maduro are calling for a US military intervention. We’re calling for American libertarians as free individuals to voluntarily support Venezuelans with humanitarian aid, funds, and media support. We’re asking the Colombian and Brazilian governments to get out of the way and let exiled Venezuelan soldiers go fight to liberate their own country–which they’ve been prevented from doing by these nervous governments babysitting them. We believe Venezuelans have every right to throw off the chains of the government killing them by the thousands.

Birras e Ideas (Beers & Ideas) is an event hosted by Mises Institute Venezuela similar to Liberty on the Rocks. They hear multiple speakers talk economics and the State, and they debate over brews. The Mises-Mambí Institute has provided grants for these events.

Why should we help, even as individuals? Because they specifically asked libertarians around the world for help. Solos no podemos, they say (We can’t do it alone).

The Mises-Mambí Institute originally got involved with Venezuelan libertarian activists in response to the situation we were facing in Cuba. Though the Mises-Mambí Institute is a tax-exempt organization registered with the US IRS, it’s the brainchild of libertarian dissidents in Havana. The more the Cuban government used violence to repress nonviolent libertarians in Cuba (like Ubaldo Herrera Hernandez, who’s still in a labor prison over a Murray Rothbard book), the more we wanted to do something to really get in their hair. Members of the Cuban Libertrian Party have even been arrested for protesting in the streets of Havana against Raul Castro’s secret war in Venezuela. So once we in the Institute’s international team learned that Raul Castro’s communist party-state had invaded Venezuela, we decided to extend support to Venezuelan libertrian dissidents on behalf of Cuba’s libertarians.

“Economic warfare”

The US sanctions are a main target by the libertarians attacking the Libertarian Party for supporting the Venezuelan uprising. So let’s get this over with right away by criticizing their lack of information while writing their scathing criticisms of Nick Sarwark and Kyle Varner. The critics are quasi-blaming Sarwark and Varner for the sanctions rather than admitting to themselves that the titanic US government is going to have its own agenda and butt into things anyway, and the Libertarian Party isn’t even a blip on their radar. So why must they be the scapegoat?

The first sanctions that actually started doing damage to the national economy were the PDVSA sanctions, which didn’t go into effect until April 28th, 2019 — long after the crisis had started, and long after the United Socialist Party’s government drove oil production to 1/10 of what it used to be. The Venezuelan recession has been happening for a decade. Anybody could read the Caracas Chronicles back in 2010 and see how oil production was down under the Chavez administration.

Yes, the US has sanctioned countries to death before. The sanctions that killed half a million Iraqi children in the 1990s were inexcusable. Period. This is also not the same kind of situation. Maduro didn’t need help killing or starving his countrymen, and was quite able to achieve that on his own.

The kind of crisis Venezuela is mired in today was predicted back in 1936 when Venezuelan economist Arturo Uslar Pietri warned against the severe dangers of putting all the economy’s eggs in the oil basket. He predicted that if there was ever an oil recession, the whole economy would go under. This prediction is over 80 years old and was completely ignored by Chavez and Maduro.

The whole State depends on oil revenues, and oil production began to plummet when Chavez expropriated the entire private oil sector between 2005 and 2009. Best of all, two weeks ago the Central Bank of Venezuela published its first statistics in three years. The report surprisingly concludes that the economic crisis started years before the US started applying any sanctions against Venezuela or its leaders. In other words, even Maduro’s cronies in the Central Bank are tired of trying to make him look good and helping him avoid responsibility for what’s clearly his regime’s fault. (This is not a defense of US foreign policy, but clarification that people are blaming the wrong State for these crimes.)

I guess Daniel McAdams and everyone else at RPI missed that little news story — it was all over the Sanish language media, but not the English language media, so therefore it must not exist. And as far as McAdams’ claims that the US killed Venezuela’s economy, or their electrical grid, not only are those claims blatantly false, but they’re literally talking points coming directly from Cuban communist government newspapers. (Never mind that Cuba still gets oil from Maduro at special below-market rates.)

Now, the Austrian School of Economics has been arguing for 100 years that state centralization and planning of the economy doesn’t ever work. So why does it suddenly not apply to Venezuela? Because it’s inconvenient to their ‘woke’ political narrative.

Pictures of the Socialistic Future is prophetic in light of the Bolivarian Revolution and the ongoing crisis.

In the beginning we in the Mises-Mambí Institute were also guilty of political appropriation. We viewed the Venezuelan crisis through the prism of our own interests instead of first getting an accurate picture from actual Venezuelans who speak NAP just like we do. We support human freedom like we always have. Any idea that we support “US-sponsored regime change” is completely false.

Yes, John Bolton is a warmonger; there’s no doubt he has nefarious plans for Venezuela. That’s also not Varner’s problem; people who support the transition don’t have to answer for John Bolton. AND while libertarians don’t want a US military adventure in Venezuela, the Guaidó uprising is not a coup, and those people are right to rise up against Maduro, and they don’t need Americans’ permission to do it.

So there you have it: Guaidó yes, Bolton’s war no.

“We get our marching orders from the Constitution”

Those are the words Ron Paul said during a 2008 Republican primary debate when, while explaining non-interventionism, sarcastically asked if he got his marching orders from Al Qaeda. Dr. Paul was firm that “we get our marching orders from the Constitution!” So let’s use the Venezuelan constitution as the standard to judge what’s going on, instead of our American factional disputes.

The 1999 Constitution, whose writing was presided over by Hugo Chavez, states in Article 233 that when there is no duly elected president, then the President of the National Assembly will be the Interim President, and his main job is to make free and fair elections happen. Guaidó did not name himself president like so many Americans journalists mistakenly claim–the National Assembly waited until Maduro’s second term legally expired before confirming a Provisional President in January 2019.

Maduro sympathizers like to claim that Maduro was lawfully reelected president, but this is completely false. Maduro moved the elections ahead to months earlier than they were supposed to be held, without the required confirmation by a vote of the National Assembly. Those elections were boycotted by a majority of Venezuelan voters and the government reports of a high turnout are simply false. The company that issued the voting machines for that election reported irregularities in the vote counts in multiple districts. Days later, the entire company had packed up and left Venezuela completely. No, that’s not suspicious at all…

The 2017 gubernatorial elections were also stolen by the United Socialist Party. The Washington Post reports, “The machine printouts generated by at least 11 polling stations clearly didn’t match the results being reported by the regime-controlled National Elections Council in Caracas. According to Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), the discrepancies were blatant and would have been enough to flip what had been a tight race in a strategic region.”

But let’s just play devil’s advocate and say that Maduro won reelection fair and square. Even if that were the case–and it’s not–it still completely ignores the fact that Maduro repeatedly violated the 1999 constitution in creating a parallel government loyal to him specifically rather than the office of the presidency, which much change hands every 1 or 2 terms.

The United Socialist Party was crushed in the 2015 National Assembly elections, with opposition candidates getting almost 70% of the national vote. There was no denying that, by the overwhelming will of the masses, the United Socialist Party was about to lose its stranglehold on the Venezuelan government. So in the lame duck session, the Socialist majority significantly grew and packed the Supreme Court (TSJ) with PSUV judges.

To do this, they intimidated several judges into retiring early, even threatening them and their families. Several judges fled the country to avoid being arrested by the military. Furthermore, Hugo Chavez and Maduro’s ex-Attorney General Luisa Ortega, in exile and recognizing Guaidó, is very clear that she was pressured into pressing false charges of terrorism against opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez (of the social-democratic Voluntad Popular party).

After Maduro stacked the Supreme Court, his loyalist judges bypassed a constitutionally mandated vote by the National Assembly and gave Maduro permission to convene a Constituent Assembly. The Constituent is only supposed to exist to create a new constitution, but this illegal (not only illegitimate, but fully unlawful) Constituent Assembly has served as a parallel congress to bypass the National Assembly.

Then in 2018, the Constituent Assembly declared the National Assembly dissolved, and it also declared dissolved all political parties who aren’t represented in the Constituent Assembly. (They did get around to writing Maduro a new rubber stamp constitution, but they never got around to disbanding.)

So even if Maduro was reelected fair and square, which isn’t the case, it still completely ignores that his regime unlawfully created a parallel government for themselves to stay in power after they knew they had lost the government. And then they stole the 2017 gubernatorial elections — and then they made a fake election ahead of schedule in which only Maduro supporters participated.

These pro-Maduro rallies are a farce too. There’s hard evidence of the government using photoshop and videoshop to make it look like more people show up to support him. The disparity between the pro-Maduro rallies and the huge marches for him to step down is so gargantuan, it’s laughable when Americans argue that he’s still popular.

So Guaidó is not some coup orchestrated by John Bolton. The fact is that the legal and legitimate Venezuelan constitution of 1999 establishes the conditions for an interim presidency and Juan Guaidó is following that constitution. He’s no Ron Paul, but at least Guaidó is conscientiously following the rulebook whereas Maduro makes up the rules as he goes, and as he shoots people.

Continued in Part 2: The Indian War and the War on Libertarians

…Daniel Barrios, libertarian from Caracas, was shot in the ribs in 2014 for protesting. Another organizer… was shot in the leg by police. Lorent Saleh, a libertarian before the Libertarian Movement even existed, was imprisoned and tortured for four years on false charges of terrorism…

Zach Foster is the executive director of the Mises-Mambí Institute. In 2011 he launched a grass roots essay contest that culminated in the book Voices Of Revolution: Americans Speak Out For Ron Paul.

The featured image was adapted from the photo “Dr Ron Paul” by Gage Skidmore.

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