Exit the Dragon: Why China Should Stop Supporting Venezuela

The New York TimesCHICAGO — Poor Venezuela, so far from God, so close to the People’s Republic of China. Having bid farewell to tumultuous 2016, President Nicolás Maduro’s embattled government, hit hard by low oil prices, has again bucked market expectations, muddling through without defaulting on sovereign bonds or those of the state-owned oil company PDVSA. Paying off $10 billion to Wall Street last year required many sacrifices from Venezuela: selling off or mortgaging international assets and slashing imports by nearly 50 percent for the second year running, exacerbating harrowing nationwide shortages of vital medicines and food. Without a sudden recovery of oil prices, 2017 will be even harder.

Mr. Maduro’s near-superhuman willingness to continue paying creditors long after most countries would have capitulated can seem incongruous given his trademark anticapitalist bent, but it stems from a calculation. By averting major disasters — defaults or massacres — the administration hopes that mere incremental declines, however rapid, will not trigger a backlash capable of bringing it down. The government is boiling Venezuelans like frogs in the proverbial pot while buying time to survive until the 2018 presidential election.

Such tactics alone would never suffice, however, were it not for crucial support for Chavismo — Hugo Chávez’s brand of socialism — by its Eastern benefactor, Beijing. Even as Mr. Maduro’s irresponsible policy making and growing authoritarianism have isolated Venezuela internationally and led to a humanitarian catastrophe, and even as reports expose lapses and delays in Venezuelan oil obligations to China, Beijing’s foreign ministry has remained publicly steadfast, casting new lifelines to Caracas. So what explains China’s Zen-like patience with Mr. Maduro? …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.