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WSJ: Hope at last in Venezuela


Freedom for Venezuela


It isn't every day that a police state takes such a beating at the polls that it has to admit defeat in its own rigged election. So kudos to the Venezuelan opposition, which thrashed the government's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in Sunday's national assembly election, even taking the two-thirds supermajority needed to pass major economic and judicial reforms.

After 16 years of repressive left-wing rule, this is cause for hope in Venezuela and across the Americas. An impressive 75% of the electorate turned out to vote, driven by plummeting living standards. Hyperinflation, food shortages, crumbling public works and soaring murder rates have made the country miserable.

President Nicolás Maduro, the late Hugo Chávez 's handpicked successor, accepted the vote—at least for now. It's doubtful he would have done so without pressure from the military, which also seems to be fed up with the country's accelerating decline.

Center for Democracy and Development in the Americas CEO Leopoldo Martinez
on the opposition victory in parliamentary elections. Photo credit: Getty Images.

The opposition will now have a chance to improve the economy and restore political pluralism. The first task should be ordering the release of Mr. Maduro's political prisoners, including opposition leader Leopoldo López.

To end food shortages, the new congress can immediately lift price controls so entrepreneurs have an incentive to produce or import. The only way to strengthen the “strong bolivar,” as the late Hugo Chávez named the currency, is to make it valuable enough for people to hold. That means lifting capital controls and ending the central bank's multiple exchange-rate system so business can get access to dollars. On current course Venezuela will run out of international reserves and face default in 2017. Restructuring debt now with creditors would make that prospect less painful.

Which brings us to oil. Chávez used the country's energy wealth to buy permission in Latin America—and Massachusetts; remember Joseph Kennedy's Citgo PR campaign—for his many human-rights violations. As long as governments in the Caribbean were getting low-priced petroleum from Venezuela, they voted with the military government in Caracas at the Organization of American States.

Chávez and Mr. Maduro have also traded oil for security help from Cuba's intelligence apparatus. Putting an end to these trades would retain more resources inside Venezuela and send a signal that the days of government repression are numbered. Meanwhile, rejoice that one of this hemisphere's lost countries has a chance at revival.

The Wall Street Journal is a business-focused, English-language international daily newspaper based in New York City, is the largest newspaper in the United States by circulation. Petroleumworld does not necessarily share these views.

Editor's Note: This commentary was originally published by The Wall Street Journal on Dec. 7, 2015.Petroleumworld reprint this article in the interest of our readers.

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Petroleumworld News 12/14/2015

 

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