Venezuela: From 21st Century Socialism To Plain Old Fascism

Hampered by plummeting oil prices and fading public support, President Nicolas Maduro and his crafty sidekick, Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello, are trying to provoke an opposition outburst. Last week's arrest of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma was a c

Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello in Caracas
Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro and President of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello in Caracas
Darío Acevedo Carmona


BOGOTA Democrats in the Americas can no longer doubt that Venezuela's impostor president, Nicolás Maduro, and Diosdado Cabello, the murky speaker of parliament some have accused of running a trafficking ring from within the state apparatus, are imposing a veritable dictatorship on Venezuela. It's also clear that their economic model, which is producing widespread food shortages, is a thundering failure.

The arrest on Feb. 19 of Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, a key figure in the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition, coincides with the rather painful anniversary of the detention of another government opponent, Leopoldo López. Outspoken former MP María Corina Machado and other regime critics, in the meantime, have been receiving constant threats.

The pressure being exerted on these opposition leaders shows just how determined the "Castro-Chavista" regime is to maintain its grip on power and deepen its Cuba-inspired "revolution of 21st century socialism."

Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma — Photo: El Nacional/GDA/ZUMA

Working against the Maduro-Cabello duo is a collapse in oil prices that curbs their government's ability to maneuver and to spend and spend, as it did when a barrel of crude cost about $100. The Venezuelan people, in turn, are becoming more and more restless. More than two thirds of the population now disapprove of the president. The setting, in other words, is increasingly favorable for changes sought by MUD.

The regime knows all this, which is why it is intentionally provoking the opposition. In doing so, the government hopes to goad its opponents into responding with violence, precisely what Maduro and Cabello need to justify an even more thorough crackdown.

While MUD has been grappling with internal dissensions that have hindered its leadership efforts, it nevertheless enjoys the backing of an ample sector of the public that is eager for guidance and direction. The leaders of other States are also taking note of the duo's repressive actions, with signs of the possible rise of a continental movement of solidarity with Venezuelans and against the dictatorship.

Dismantling democracy

The Maduro regime is trying to legitimate its rule with tales of plots and coups. It is also trying to keep the sympathies of Latin American states that have benefited from Venezuelan largesse. It wants, in other words, to cash in on the credit extended over the years to the various leftwing governments that have partnered with Venezuela via the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) trade alliance.

Guarding those loyalties is proving easier said than done for Maduro and Cabello, who lack both the aura and resources of their late mentor, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez (1999-2013). Some of Venezuela's allies, furthermore, have their own problems to attend to at the moment.

In Ecuador, the proud Rafael Correa, whose authoritarian antics are increasingly making him seem like a local Bonaparte, is busy persecuting critical papers and a dissident cartoonist. In Argentina, President Cristina Kirchner is a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, facing suspicions over a prosecutor's suspect death. Her vice-president is in court on corruption charges. There is a possibility she too could end up in a courtroom when she steps down after the next elections. With the massive Petrobras scandal, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, though recently reelected, is also under serious pressure at the moment.

Feb. 24 protest against Maduro in San Cristobal — Photo: George Castellanos/Xinhua/ZUMA

The communist style strategy of the São Paulo Forum, which brings together leftist leaders such as Correa, Daniel Ortega (Nicaragua) and Evo Morales (Bolivia), is looking increasing tired. Leaders of this sort come to power with a discourse of hopes and promises, denouncing capitalism and nationalism and supposedly respecting the democratic way. Later, they use their tried and tested — and shameful and shameless — little tricks to attack the institutions that conform democracy, such as press liberties and the separation of powers. After weakening the armed forces and reforming their various constitutions, they lock themselves in power. Democratic changes of government become nearly impossible.

We were warned of the Chavista project's anti-democratic nature. Yet many intellectuals and supposedly progressive elements mocked the warnings. They were exaggerated, they said, or baseless, the fruit of paranoia and anti-communist fantasies. Many governments, in the meantime, were charmed by Venezuela's generous donations .

The democratic world faces a dilemma now: It can quietly sit and observe a gang flatten democratic and liberal institutions, or rise, object and demand that those institutions be restored. The Venezuelan regime wants a forceful encounter to justify repression. The opposition would do better with a mix of mass protests, peaceful resistance, electoral preparations and intensive lobbying to win international solidarity.

Given the incompetence of the Organization of American States (OAS) and the frankly complicit attitude of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR, in Spanish), which is run by a Maduro minion, Venezuela's friends could also help the cause by forming a counter-grouping to the São Paulo Forum, perhaps something along the lines of a Latin American Forum for Democracy and Freedoms.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!