Tonight, millions of Americans will watch the Academy Awards, which has received as much hype as that other winter spectacle, the Super Bowl. Think of the Oscars as a Super Bowl for unathletic people with perfect teeth and activist ambitions. Be prepared for fist pumping and an expletive or two directed at the President. Or, as Hillary called him during the presidential campaign, “Donald.”
Meanwhile, in other parts of the planet where Oscar is just a man’s name, things are happening. Take, for instance, the fifteenth week of riots in Paris by the gilets jaunes, the Vatican summit on the predatory priest crisis, and the revolution in Venezuela that has forced millions of people to flee to neighboring Columbia and Brazil.
Venezuela’s revolution started with an economic crisis. The crisis came about from falling oil prices and continued government spending. President Nicolás Maduro inherited a situation he made worse by jailing political opponents and facilitating the work of the drug cartels. He then added incompetence and buffoonery to the mix. Cries of American imperialism make him look even more pathetic, especially when his latest move has been to set fire to trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid from the United States, Columbia, and Brazil.
I watched a documentary recently on the Russian Revolution in which the narrator remarked that “all revolutions begin with bread.” What he meant, of course, was the lack of it. Consider the protest of Parisian women in 1789 over rising food prices and the scarcity of bread. Fed up, they marched on Versailles. Marie Antoinette’s quip about letting them eat cake does not hold up historically, but it is the perfect expression of the larger narrative of tyranny and leaders who are out of touch.
In imperial Russia, people had to put up with defeat in the Great War, a German empress nobody liked, and deplorable working conditions, especially in the factories. By most accounts, Nicholas II was a gracious but ineffectual man. When you combine that with no bread to eat, you get an October Revolution. It turns out you can’t starve your subjects and keep your crown, no matter how much they like you personally.
Things ended horribly for the monarchs in France and Russia. Whether they end the same way for Maduro remains to be seen. However, watching live stream from the border hot spots between Venezuela and Columbia, it is obvious that the common people, those most in need of food and medicine, stand on the front line. They have been teargassed and shot at. They have been beaten. They have watched as members of Maduro’s Guardia Nacional set fire to the aid trucks.
Still, it’s not a stretch to wonder whether these confrontations are staged. It’s as if a problem has been set before us in the form of innocent people attacked by Maduro’s thugs. The solution will be to call in troops to rescue them. Then Juan Guaidó, head of the National Assembly, can call for elections to replace Maduro. Guaidó probably will run, which is worrisome, since he looks as if he can barely grow facial hair. Would he take orders from someone else? If so, from whom? Mike Pence, who has threatened the Maduro regime publicly? John Bolton, Trump’s National Security Advisor?
Some have called this a proxy war between the United States and Russia. Certainly, Vladimir Putin, a tzar himself, has stirred the pot by sending mercenaries and supplies to prop up Maduro. But I disagree. This isn’t about Russia. Neither is it about oil. We don’t need Venezuela’s oil. We just don’t want the Chinese to have it, which, given the brutal regime of Xi Jinping, who has decided to rule for life as if he were an emperor, seems reasonable. It also comes at the right time in the trade talks with China. Trump’s strategy, at least in this regard, has been impressive.
That leaves the poor Venezuelans at the bridges. They continue to charge the makeshift barricades that Maduro’s military have set up. They continue to be gassed and shot at. Yet, they won’t leave. If you listen to them, they tell you exactly why they are standing their ground and what they want. Libertad and bread.