Shelves bereft of food, hospitals short of medicine. Police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. Assassinations of United Socialist Party officials, government buildings set ablaze. Much of the blame for the inflation and recent economic mismanagement in Venezuela lies with President Nicolás Maduro and the ruling PSUV. But the United States’ brutal sanctions campaign and coup attempts have dramatically magnified Venezuela’s misery.
On Thursday evening, the largest blackout in Venezuela’s recent history began, and it continues to leave the vast majority of the country in the dark. This serves as the latest punctuating event in a long-term humanitarian crisis that has recently included the detainment of American journalist Jorge Ramos when he tried to show notoriously-glutted President Nicolás Maduro a video of Venezuelans picking through garbage for food, the failure of international humanitarian aid to enter the country due to blockage by the military and National Assembly President Juan Guaidó’s declaration of himself as the legitimate president. The true victims of this government-denied crisis are the Venezuelan people. And yet, in a U.S. context, discussion of this crisis has had a collateral casualty: history. On both the left and right of the political spectrum, actors have misrepresented the past to further their present aims.
On the left, a prime example comes from one of my fellow columnists, who last month described why the U.S. has no reason to be involved in Venezuela, citing the U.S.’s own flaws as a democracy and its history of intervention in Latin America.
In recent years, Venezuela has become a favorite talking point for socialism’s detractors, who typically invoke the nation when they find themselves without a more substantive defense of their views. “But what about Venezuela?” they ask in comment sections everywhere. The question is rhetorical. Venezuela is just their trump card — present-day proof of the failed socialist experiment. But what if we truly wanted to know the answer to “what about Venezuela?” If the question was asked in good faith, what would the answer be?