Venezuela: Nicolás Maduro and the Banality of Evil

This article is a blow-by-blow dissection of the statements made by the Venezuelan ‘president’ in a recent op-ed published in EL PAÍS

It was Hannah Arendt who noted how banal evil can be. After attending Adolf Eichmann’s trial in 1961, Arendt wrote that the thing that surprised her the most was just how dim-witted and anodyne this monstrous human being really was. The SS officer was one of the key organizers of the machinery that murdered more than six million men, women and children. Arendt says that Eichmann was not very intelligent. He was unable to finish high school or vocational school and only found employment as a traveling salesman thanks to family connections. For Arendt, Eichmann took refuge in “stock phrases and self-invented clichés” and “officialese.” One of the psychologists who examined him reported that his only unusual characteristic was that he seemed more normal in his habits and language than the average person.

Nicolas Maduro most despised ‘leader’ in Latin America – EPA

Naturally, there are big differences between Adolf Eichmann and Nicolás Maduro. But there are also similarities. Maduro did not do very well in school or in his working life and his grammatical slips continue to go viral and global on social media. Stock phrases, clichés and officialese saturate his vocabulary. And like Eichmann, his banality is already legendary.

The Venezuelan president recently published a revealing opinion piece in EL PAÍS. It documents his mendacity, confirms his banality, and lays out his immense cruelty.

He begins by stating: “Our democracy is different from all others. Because all the rest … are democracies formed by and for the elites.” It turns out that the opulent elite created by Hugo Chávez, and perpetuated by Maduro, has spent two decades illicitly enriching itself, all the while exercising power with scant regard for democratic norms. The president’s control over every government institution is absolute. Just one example: between 2004 and 2013, the Venezuelan Supreme Court issued 45,474 rulings. How many of these came down against the government’s position? Not even one.

Maduro continues: “The revolution changed and became feminist. Together we decided to remove sexist violence from our healthcare system and empower women through a national humanizing childbirth program.” Yet, according to The Lancet, a medical journal, maternal mortality in Venezuela has increased by 65% in recent years and infant mortality by 30%. This is what he means by “humanized and feminist childbirth”?

Protesters march in solidarity against despot Nicolas Maduro

Protesters march in solidarity against Nicolas Maduro’s socialist failure.

But Nicolás Maduro doesn’t just care about mothers. He is also worried about young people: “Twenty years ago, before our Bolivarian revolution began, it was normal to blame youth unemployment on the youth themselves…who, because they were lazy, deserved poor healthcare, starvation wages, and to live without a roof over their heads. But with us in power, things have changed.” In this the president is quite right, things have changed. The purchasing power of the minimum wage has fallen 94.4% from its 1998 level. In practice, the real minimum wage “on the street” is a little more than $3 a month (€2.50). One month’s worth of the “official” minimum wage is only enough to buy four pounds of chicken. And not all workers are lucky enough to make that much. A nurse who works on her own, for example, earns the equivalent of $0.06 a day. But there is more: the young people who the president is so worried about are the most frequent victims of the runaway crime that has paralyzed the country. Today Venezuela suffers one of the highest murder rates in the world. What has Maduro done about that? Nothing.

Naturally, the president’s priority is the ‘people’: “It is essential that the economy be at the service of the people and not the people at the service of the economy… The economy is the heart of our revolutionary project. But in my heart, the people come first.” These people who apparently fill the president’s heart are currently being decimated by Latin America’s first bout of hyperinflation in the 21st century, -the IMF calculates it will hit 1.000.000% (yes a million) this year- as well as appalling shortages of food, medicine, and other basic products. According to the International Monetary Fund, prices will rise 13,000% this year. Last year 64% of the population lost, on average, 24 pounds in weight because they could not afford enough food. This year the shortage is even worse and there is severe rationing of water and electricity. It’s a good thing that Maduro’s economy is at the service of the people. Just imagine if it wasn’t.

Corrupt to the bone: Criminal and despot Nicolas Maduro – Reuters

In addition to using his column to display his economic and social leadership, (or lack of it) the president of Venezuela also reaffirmed his democratic credentials: “For us there is only freedom and democracy when there is someone else who thinks differently out in front, and also a space where that person can express their identity and their differences.” For hundreds of Venezuelan political prisoners, this “space” is a small, crowded cell where they live in inhumane conditions and where some of them are regularly tortured, as has been denounced by all the major international human rights organisations. In the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro, thinking differently is dangerous.

Venezuela: State of Disaster

To “deepen” the democracy that reigns in his country, Maduro has called for early elections and he is one of the candidates with the best chances of winning, despite the fact that his government has been unable to contain the famine, the health crisis or the murders. “We have been passionately committed to transparency, in respecting and enforcing the voting laws for the up coming elections on May 20… And this process will be clean and exemplary.”

The small detail that the president omitted was that 15 governments in Latin America, plus the European Union, the United States, and Canada have denounced the impending elections as fraudulent and have announced that they will not recognise their results.

Maduro – the self-proclaimed democrat – disqualified the main opposition parties. The most popular candidates are in prison, exile, or were barred from standing, and the government is not allowing independent international observers to monitor the electoral process. But the president is not alone. The great Russian democracy will send a team of observers to guarantee the vote’s fairness. Cuba and Nicaragua are sending monitors, too.

A protester is seen during clashes with police forces in a demonstration against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, April 24, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A protester is seen during clashes with police forces in a demonstration against President Nicolas Maduro, in Caracas, Venezuela, April 24, 2017.  AFP

It is utterly revealing that, in his long piece, Maduro never acknowledges the hellish conditions that Venezuelans are currently enduring. In surveys that measure the level of happiness in different countries, Venezuela used to hold one of the top spots. Today it is one of the unhappiest places in the world. It ranks 102 among the 156 countries surveyed. Maduro also failed to comment on the millions of Venezuelans who have been forced to leave their homeland.

Perhaps the most outrageous peculiarity of the Chávez and Maduro regimes is the criminal indifference they have shown to the suffering of the Venezuelans who they claim to love. The indolence, the indifference, the passivity with which Maduro deals with this tragic crisis that is still growing and expanding, killing more and more Venezuelans every day, seems not to affect him in the least. It does not move him or motivate him to act or to seek help. On the contrary, Maduro steadfastly denies that Venezuela faces a humanitarian crisis at all and has refused the international aid that could have already saved thousands of lives.

Yes, Maduro is banal, uneducated, stupid, but also deadly.

Too Little Too Late

Nervous Venezuelans have been rushing to the shops on concerns that a monetary overhaul to lower five zeros from prices in response to hyperinflation could wreak financial havoc and make basic shopping impossible.

Inflation hit 82,700% in July, according to the opposition-run congress, as the country’s socialist economic model continued to unravel, meaning purchases of basic items require piles of cash that is often difficult to obtain.

That will in some circumstances leave consumers in the confusing situation of having to use old bills with face value of 1,000,000 bolivars to make purchases valued at 10 bolivars in the new denomination.

You will need to fork out a mega 14.6 million bolivars (€1.94) for a 2.4 kilogram chicken. Reuters

Poor Venezuelans without bank accounts have for months been carrying wads of cash to make basic purchases.

Buying one kilo of cheese, worth the equivalent of €0.99 at the most widely used exchange rate, requires 7,500 notes of 1,000 bolivar denomination – a note that was only brought fully into circulation last year.

Reuters photographer Carlos Garcia Rawlins found a unique way to show how many bolivars one must carry for the essentials in Caracas:

Be ready to pay 2.6 million bolivars (€0.35) for a toilet paper roll. Reuters

Drivers also rushed to fill up on Venezuela’s heavily-subsidised petrol, the world’s cheapest at around 2,896 gallons per US penny.

Some drivers were worried about paying for petrol on Monday as there will be no new legal tender small enough to pay for a full tank.

Maduro also said this month that petrol prices should be increased, but has not provided a timeframe for the price hike.

A half-dozen sources at service stations said they had not been briefed about any changes and were not expecting an imminent rise in prices.

Maduro, who has said the country is victim of an “economic war” led by political adversaries, said the new monetary measure would bring economic stability to the struggling OPEC nation.

A kilogram of tomatoes will set you back by a mega 5 million bolivars (€0.66) – Reuters

His critics have said the move is little more than an accounting manoeuvre that would do nothing to slow soaring prices. In other words, a scam. 

They blame inflation on failed socialist policies and indiscriminate money printing.

Maduro has declared a public holiday for Monday, when a new set of bills will be introduced with the lower denominations. Internet banking operations will be halted for several hours starting on Sunday evening.

But the primary difference between the upcoming change and Maduro’s 2016 currency decision is that in this instance, most of the current ones will coexist with the new notes for an undetermined period while the new bills come into circulation.

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