The long term terminal crisis of the Venezuelan oil rentier model and the present intense crisis facing the country

In this talk I will not attempt to deal with even a cursory balance of the Bolivarian process with its very significant national and regional achievements and the many contradictions flaws and limitations that have characterized this attempt at a radical anticapitalist transformation. I will deal basically with the current intense crisis facing the country. To define my position as clearly as possible I would start by stating that I have been a left wing intellectual and political activist all my adult life and critically backed the Chavez government during its first decade, until the political process of the Bolivarian Revolution started to present significant deviations from its original orientations.
After more than a decade of profound political and social transformations, Venezuela is facing today its most severe crisis since the civil wars of the 19th century. The significant accomplishments of the Bolivarian Revolution are all at risk. The economy is collapsing, poverty, undernourishment and death rates are increasing. Political polarization and violence could lead to a civil war. All this is seriously aggravated by increasing international isolation, due among other things, to the turn to the right of the governments of Brazil and Argentina, and imperialist actions like the recently imposed financial blockade and threats of military intervention made by Donald Trump.
The Venezuelan crisis is not new. The country has been undergoing a deep structural economic and political crisis for the last four decades. It is the terminal crisis of the oil based extractivist model and clientelistic rentier state that has characterized Venezuelan society since the second decade of the last century. However, in the form of a radical program of transformation that eventually was conceived as a socialist project, this extractive rentier model was actually given a new breath of life with the charismatic leadership of Chavez, the legitimacy provided by the 1999 Constitution and the high oil prices of the first decade of this century. Once again it seemed like oil prices could only go up and oil income was seen in the short and medium term as providing the resources required for the transformation of Venezuelan society. During then process no significant steps were taken in the direction of the transformation of the productive structure of the country. On the contrary, rentism deepened until oil reached 96% of the total value of exports. Today the country is more dependent on imports, even for basic food and medical supplies, than ever before.
The social policies that substantially improved the living conditions of the popular sectors and the important initiatives in Latin American cooperation and solidarity carried out
by the Venezuelan government were both made possible by an extraordinary commodity boom led by Chinese demand. As the oil rent was directed toward the excluded sectors of the population, there were profound improvements in their living conditions. Poverty and inequality were significantly reduced, access to food, health services, education and social security improved in qualitative terms. Politically, there were acute changes in popular political culture, widespread grass-root organizations and extraordinary levels of both social and political participation. Venezuela played a central role in the displacement to the left that took place in most of South America. For years the government had high levels of backing and legitimacy.
However in 2013 and 2014 the two main pillars that sustained the Bolivarian process, Chavez´s extraordinary charismatic leadership and historically high oil prices were no longer there. Chávez died in March 2013. A year later the average price of Venezuelan oil exports had collapsed from over a hundred dollars a barrel to less than twenty five dollars. Thus the deep structural terminal crisis of the oil rentier state and society that had been in a certain sense postponed for a few years reemerged with greater, even dramatic force.

Les opinions exprimées et les arguments avancés dans cet article demeurent l'entière responsabilité de l'auteur-e et ne reflètent pas nécessairement ceux du CETRI.