1902 and You

Imagine Nicolás facing the economic sanctions of the world by enlisting troops and declaring war. Crazy? Yes, but it wouldn't be the first time a Venezuelan autocrat acts this way.

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.