Andres Oppenheimer

Maduro spends millions to rewrite history — and wrongly blames Trump for Venezuela’s collapse | Opinion

Amid the worst humanitarian crisis in Latin America’s recent history — with widespread shortages of food and medicines, and millions fleeing the country — Venezuela’s dictatorship is hosting an international meeting of radical leftist movements “to show the achievements of the Bolivarian Revolution.”

This is not a joke.

What’s even more bizarre, the July 25-28 meeting of the XXV Sao Paulo Forum is costing President Nicolás Maduro’s dictatorship up to $200 million, according to the Venezuelan opposition party Primero Justicia.

The figure may be somewhat exaggerated, but according to the Maduro regime’s official propaganda machine it has invited delegates from 120 far-left “social movements” from around the world for the meeting. All of their travel, hotel and meals were paid for by the Venezuelan government, Primero Justicia congressman Leonardo Reginault told me in a telephone interview.

Indeed, a video posted by Colombia’s Caracol Radio reporter Beatriz Adrián on her Twitter page shows her interview of a young man with a Che Guevara-style red beret at the meeting, who readily admits that he had not paid for the trip. When asked who had paid for it, he responded that it was Forum’s “organizers.”

“A country in crisis receives guest from leftist political parties with all expenses paid, including air travel, lodging and food,” Adrián wrote on Twitter.

There is a major reason why the Maduro regime is spending desperately needed funds for this meeting: It wants to spread the notion that Venezuela’s economic disaster was caused by the Trump administration’s sanctions.

It’s the new narrative of the anti-democratic left to try to explain not only Venezuela’s economic crisis, but also Maduro’s mass murders of oppositionists.

According to a recent United Nations report, there were at least 6,856 suspicious deaths of opposition members in the 17-month period ending in May 2019. That’s three times more than the killings carried out by Chilean President Augusto Pinochet during his 17-year dictatorship.

Trump can be rightly accused of being a racist, ignorant and inept president, and a horrible human being. But he can’t be blamed for Venezuela’s debacle, which started long before his term.

Contrary to what Maduro and his Cuban handlers want the world to believe, Venezuela’s disaster started with late president Hugo Chávez in the early 2000s and has accelerated under Maduro since 2013. The first U.S. financial sanctions against Venezuela were announced in August 2017.

A report issued in May by the Washington-based Brookings Institution, which, generally, is critical of Trump’s foreign policy, concluded that, “No matter what socioeconomic indicator one chooses to look at, it is clear that the sharp deterioration in Venezuela’s living standards started long before August 2017.”

Among the many examples cited in the report:

- By 2016, a year before the Trump administration imposed its sanctions on Venezuela, the country’s food imports had fallen by 71 percent from their 2013 levels.

- By 2016, imports of medicines and medical equipment had fallen by 68 percent from their 2013 levels.

- In terms of calorie intake, by August 2017, Venezuelans earning the minimum wage could afford 92 percent fewer calories than in 2010.

- Infant mortality had already risen by 44 percent between 2013 and 2016.

The further deterioration in socioeconomic indicators observed since the 2017 U.S. sanctions “by no means constitutes the bulk of the collapse” of the country, the report says.

In fact, Venezuela’s collapse started — if not before — in 2003, when Chávez fired 18,000 oil workers from the PDVSA state oil monopoly after they went on strike. That led to an exodus of Venezuela’s oil-industry managers and technicians, which led to a steep decline in oil production, the country’s main source of income.

Now, as Maduro uses the Sao Paulo Forum to try to rewrite history and portray himself as a victim of U.S. “imperialism,” remember that his country’s collapse started more than a decade before the U.S. sanctions. Trump can be rightly blamed for many things, but not for Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show at 8 p.m. Sunday on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimera