Hours before the Constituent Assembly’s election, POTUS taunted Venezuela with a chao pescao petro-sanction for 62% of the country’s oil related income. Back in the day, Cipriano Castro (1902-1903) emerged victorious from a European blockade by enlisting soldiers, breaking relations with the old continent and selling our soul to the U.S. while getting hugely popular at home for fighting ”imperialism.” Could Maduro swing like Cipriano?

Back in 1902, Venezuela was a country at the North of the South. Exports were highly volatile and dependent on two or three goods from the same economic sector; 92% of demand for exports came from Germany, Spain, France, the UK and the USA. For many years, the balance of trade was on the surplus side, but money wasn’t invested nor saved. It left our country, first as foreign debt, then as payment to those managing commerce only the rest was spent on bureaucracy. Sound familiar?

The year was 1902, the man was Cipriano Castro. Less than a generation before that, Guzmanato had financed the republic and its various bloody internal wars through foreign debt. There was nowhere to get money from there just three banks in the whole country, so our international currency was monopolies.

“What do you mean by ‘‘no tengo para pagar’?”

“Have you seen the vast Orinoco? Just imagine: Orinoco Steamship, Orinoco Corporation…”

Ich kann nicht wait anymore.”

“Just imagine a railway from Caracas to Valencia, by the  ‘Grosse Venezuela Eisembahn Gesellschafts.

So, no. El Arco Minero is not a new chapter in the story.

This went on until one day, Cipriano told Europe he wouldn’t be paying back loans. He had just defeated the Revolución Libertadora and had a National Constituent Assembly. Long story short, in December, the United Kingdom, Germany and Italy blocked the coasts of Venezuela until we paid (the story goes that Italy just remained at sea and fished while the other two were busy blockading). Their version of oil sanctions and blocking our foreign currency income.

A hundred years ago we got closer to the U.S., today we could get closer to China and Russia.

¡La planta insolente del Extranjero ha profanado el sagrado suelo de la Patria! Cipriano Castro shouted betting to awake nationalism, and he did. Thousands of Venezuelans enlisted to defend our sovereignty and even the famous saint painted on all of Caracas buses, José Gregorio, signed up to fight.

It was all for show. Not in our wildest dreams could our military defeat such powerhouses, not then, not now. The real macoya was happening with the new leader, the USA. The American ambassador to Venezuela, Herbert Bowen, was our broker at the Washington negotiations and by February of 1903, the blockade was over and we paid what we were supposed to, with one big difference: America was now the new metropolis under the Monroe doctrine, and ‘‘El Cabito’’ Cipriano Castro had just defeated Imperialism.

Now, let’s compare. Image sectoral sanctions were applied to Venezuela’s oil industry. Wouldn’t that be the perfect moment to declare a war against foreign intervention? They have been doing it for at least a decade, but this time it would be tangible. Real, actual war, not economic folktales.

A hundred years ago we became closer to the U.S., today we could get closer to China and Russia even though China has a slowing economy and Russian nominal GDP is 13 times smaller than the USA’s.

Could Maduro swing this one with a power up of military legitimacy? It’s possible. There’s a significant correlation with economic hardships and the fall of autocratic governments… just not this type.

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  1. Off topic but of interest.Venezuela says crushes anti-government attack on military base.

    VALENCIA/CARACAS, Venezuela (Reuters) – Venezuelan authorities suppressed a small rebellion at a military base near the city of Valencia on Sunday, arresting seven men who they say participated in a “terrorist attack” against the government of unpopular President Nicolas Maduro.

    Earlier on Sunday a video circulated on social media showing a group of men in military uniform announcing an uprising in the wake of the creation of a pro-government legislative superbody on Friday, which was widely condemned as a power grab.

    Some of the alleged plotters got away with weapons stolen from the base, and state security forces were “intensely” searching for them, the defense ministry said in a statement.

    Maduro, in a televised address, congratulated the armed services for beating back what he called Sunday’s “terrorist attack.”

    Hundreds took to the streets in Valencia to support the uprising, said resident Carolina Herrera, who like other witnesses reported shots through the night.

    More at the link.

    • 7 soldiers rebelling and it is news around the world.
      US Senator Rubio is claiming that some in power have been trying to negotiate Maduro’s removal and the US not prosecuting them.
      The paranoia among the criminal regime must be incredible. Who do you trust? Who will betray whom?
      A few assassinations would be well timed about now. Especially if the culprits couldn’t be identified.

      • Now the regime has the excuse to start raiding the homes of opposition where they’ll magically start finding the arms that were taken from Paramacay.

        I’m having a difficult time believing that a small group of guys entered the fort like “Pedro por su casa”, loaded a good number of weapons onto trucks and happiily drove away. It’s all a bit suspicious for my taste.

        • Charlie, no regime is stupid enough to stage a mock military rebellion at a time like this and risk inciting a real rebellion. Maduro is too stupid to fix the economy but I’ll grant him not to be this stupid.

  2. He Ignacio: here is a HUGE fact you are overlooking in comparing what happened in 1902 to 2017:


    Furthermore: There was no f(*$%ing socialist welfare state back then to pay for.
    People go hungry, no hay, no hay, no hay, hyper hyper inflation, that is not an easy situation to govern.

    Sorry, your thesis blown out of the water. Please include some basic human geography or anthropology in your analysis next time.

    Must have been the Brits or the Germans haha

    • hello Mr. Guacharaca! hope you’re doing fine eating the fruits of my patio and leaving nothing left.

      Yes and no. Historical comparisons are mental exercises -tools for reflections- and by no means are reliable predictions of ”an unchanging society”, a lot has happened since 1902. Because you’re asking for it I will get into my ”scientific” boots.

      Yes, it is true that by that time most Venezuelans lived in rural communities and would use their ”conucos” for food -but that doesn’t necessarily means that food scarcity is *the* factor for regime change, por desgracia, misery is not enough (put a map of hunger and freedom house’s report on liberty together and see). Socio-economic crisis is a ground in which actors play but the outcome depends on the strategy used.

      There was no social welfare but a lot of freaking debt. War is pretty damn expensive. The thing with the ”welfare state” in Venezuela in extremely complex, I recommend ”Politica Social en Venezuela” by Lissette Gonzalez & Tito Lacruz (two sociologists) and Transparencia Venezuela’s work on monitoring the national budget (they report a 76% decrease in ”welfare”-ish expenditure for 2017).

      My argument in here goes in two directions: a) We are embedded in a world of geo-politics where we are pawns compared with the big empires -independently of their names and ideologies. b) Wars make a strong case for Nationalism which often leads to shitty governments getting their approval rates going up, calms down legitimacy crisis (sauf Russian Revolution) and causes an increased mechanic solidarity (Durkheim dixit), long story short: is counterproductive for ”la lucha”.

      PS: stop eating ALL the fruits; sharing is caring.

    • hey Mr. Guacharaca, pleased to be hearing from you aside from the morning sounds in my patio.

      Historical comparisons are mental exercises -they open doors of scenarios we couldn’t have imagined otherwise. They are tools for reflection and by no means can be used as a deterministic model of an ”unchanging society”.

      Yes and no. It is true that most Venezuelans could live off of their conucos. It was a rural country after all. But that doesn’t mean there’s direct causality between hunger and regime change. Por desgracia, socio-economic crisis is a shaky ground for social action but the outcome depends on some player’s contingencies. If you put together a map of world hunger and freedom house’s report map together you will find many coincidences.

      War is extremely expensive, Castro had to eradicate a lot of uprisings and inherited a lot of debt. On the other hand, social welfare in Venezuela is a complex issue. I highly recommend ”Politica Social en Venezuela” by Lissette González & Tito Lacruz (two Sociologists). Transparencia Venezuela shows a more than 70% decrease in welfare-ish expenditure by 2017.

      My argument in here goes in two directions: a) realizing that Venezuela is embedded within an international systems in which we are more of a pawn than a king. b) foreign intervention makes a case for Nationalism which usually helps with popularity ratings for the ”defender” government and causes an increased mechanical solidarity (Durkheim dixit) within that society against another – something considerably bad for our cause.

      Hope that helps to clarify. -The author.

      PS: Mr. Guacharaca, please stop eating ALL the fruits of my patio. I mean, sharing is caring -leave some.

  3. I wonder what Maduro thinks Russia is going to do: buy PDVSA oil, as they cut their own production? Nyet. Medical technology in 1902 was doubtlessly more advanced than what’s finding its way through the oceans of corruption to the Venezuelan people in need.

  4. Rest assured the U.S. isn’t going to embargo Vzl’s oil industry. This will just hand Maduro a political windfall. He can legitimately claim that U.S. imperialists are waging an economic war against Vzl. and unite the country behind him. As for starvation he doesn’t care.

    Vzl is in deep sh*t without having to block the oil industry. Maduro’s challenge now is to govern amid hunger, shortages, hyperinflation, financial default, crime and polarized opinion and keep the army from rebelling. Once the opposition and the National Assembly have been neutered he will have nobody to blame for his incompetence except the U.S. and the CIA and hope enough people believe him.

    Maduro will fall but not from sanctions or protests. It’s hard to keep in control when the economy has collapsed and he has no idea how to fix it. It’s not enough to feed the army, their families have to be fed as well and he just hasn’t got enough.

  5. I meant to reply to this way back when but life got away from me.

    However, I’m a history nerd and wargamer (and probably one of the handful of people who actually gamed out scenarios base don this). And there’s a huge farqing omission in this article. Inexcusable.

    Namely, while it prattled about how Castro emerged victorious from the 1902 crisis, this not only distorts the story of it (because the resolution was largely favorable to the Coalition), it ignores the far bigger thing……

    That far from defeating “imperialism”, Imperialism ultimately did Castro in.

    When he got overconfident and stupid from this kind of conduct, he challenged the Dutch a few years later in 1908.

    The Dutch were far weaker than the combined Anglo-German-Italian front, but they did not screw around. They sent three warships to blocakde Venezuela and capture all ships under it. All they had to do was seize two- one warship and one civilian one- before maritime traffic on the coast went to a standstill.

    Castro went to Europe to for medical treatment and to try and wait off the storm, only to get deposed by an angry public.

    So what’s the lesson here?

    Almost the exact inverse of what Sanchez says, and a little more. That even if on some miracle the first crisis of this magnitude DOES NOT result in the overthrow of the government, the tyrants- like Castro a century ago- will probably continue to push their luck until their luck pushes them off.


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