North Korea

North Korea
The always bombastic and unpredictable North Koreans go hysterical again. This time the country is prepared to "go to war" with South Korea because that country is playing loudspeakers directed at North Korean territory. A headline from a UK paper reads, "More than 50 North Korea submarines 'leave their bases' as war talks with South continue "

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Venezuela stumbles as poor leadership and cheap oil take their toll

Venezuela may soon become the world's first nation in 2015 to see its government and economy implode. The South American country, led by Hugo Chavez for 15 years from 1998 to 2013 (with all the controversy the man brought on the world stage) is heavily dependent on its oil industry and the revenues it brings. Those revenues also allowed Chavez to champion socialism in his nation, and create economic alliances with other socialist-leaning or communist nations in the Western Hemisphere, though Teatree believes it fair to say, that simple anti-US and anti-capitalist perspectives provided most of the heat for these groupings.

Venezuela - with a population approaching 30 million people, immense oil reserves and therefore potential wealth for the whole nation (if distributed justly as in the case of Norway), high and untrammeled biodiversity across its landscape, and an avowed socialist governance for the past 16 years - should really be something of a powerhouse and inspiration to the world, and yet ... Graphic from

Unfortunately, today, Venezuela is teetering as oil revenues have plunged in the past six months, corruption remains rampant, and its leader (handpicked by Chavez and propped up in power by the few benefiting from the power-structure status quo), unable to articulate a pragmatic path forward.

President Maduro, to be fair, is in over his head, and chained to the ideology and memory of Hugo Chavez. As wikipedia notes, "A former bus driver, Maduro rose to become a trade union leader, before being elected to the National Assembly in 2000. He was appointed to a number of positions within the Venezuelan Government under Chávez, ultimately being made Foreign Minister in 2006. He was described during this time as the "most capable administrator and politician of Chávez's inner circle"."

Maduro was Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2006 to 2013 and Vice President of Venezuela from 2012 to 2013. With his main asset being supportive of Hugo Chavez who in turn was able to talk big because oil prices were high and revenue flowing in, it was a very narrow base upon which to lead the nation on Maduro's own (about 95 percent of the money Venezuela earns from exports comes from its oil sales, according to an AP article on January 16).

As President, Maduro spent 2013 and the first half of 2014 making bombastic speeches in the form of "Hugo Chavez-isms," and even created a Ministry of Happiness. Photo from

In the past six months, however, since oil prices have plunged, Maduro is confronting an increasingly dire range of options. For most of January, Maduro has gone on a world circling trip visiting nations that might lend him substantial funds to cover the lost oil revenues. He has visited Russia to meet with President Putin. In China, he secured a $20 billion infusion of Chinese investments, and in Qatar, he announced a new financial alliance. Maduro also stopped in Iran, Saudi Arabia and Algeria, but with not a great deal to show for it.

Returning home, Maduro received the equivalent of a ticker-tape parade organized by his supporters, even though while traveling, his government had to implement a new rationing system to curb out-of-control lines at stores. In addition, young protesters began blockading streets and opposition leaders were loudly calling for immediate change.

Another AP article reports, "Venezuela is seeing lines unheard of even in this shortage-plagued nation, with people lining up overnight to buy necessities like soap, milk and diapers. The state has deployed military guards to maintain order as stocks run low after long winter holidays.

A man leaves a private supermarket with disposable diapers, the long line are those waiting for their turn to shop. Photo from (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Many items have become impossible to find even on the thriving black market. At least one upscale Caracas hotel is no longer providing laundry service unless guests bring their own detergent. ...

Food Security Czar Carlos Osorio drew jeers last week when he said that the existence of long lines proved that Venezuela has plenty of food. Otherwise, he said, there would be nothing to line up for."

For those unable to afford shopping at private supermarkets, there are government supermarkets where prices are capped. This is a line near the Petare shantytown in Caracas, Venezuela. Apparently this line represents "success" for Venezuela's government, as there must be something in the store to buy ...

Beyond the immediate scarcities and unrest, there are those pesky loans already taken out by Venezuela, and payments are coming due. Default on a variety of financial instruments looms. And where it all ends, in this nation with enormous potential wealth, no one knows.

But let's end on a positive note - leaving behind the long lines that give testimony to scarcity and corruption in urban Venezuela, a couple pictures of the country's southern and western regions.

The website observes, "in the state of Bolìvar, we find the huge Canaima National Park, which is generally more humid and has greener landscapes; here we find incredible waterfalls like Salto Angel, 3,212 feet (979 meters) high, and Salto Kukenan, 2,211 feet (674 meters) high."

In Western Venezuela, the Andes mountains can be found, providing the contrast to the steamy jungles and plateaus in places such as the Canaima National Park. Photo from

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