CO146 Rashawn Ray on the Numbers of Policing

Dr. Rashawn Ray is Associate Professor of Sociology and Executive Director of the Lab for Applied Social Science Research (LASSR) at the University of Maryland, College Park.

He’s a coauthor of the book How Families Matter: Simply Complicated Intersections of Race, Gender, and Work.


I’ve talked about Venezuela before, it’s a country that has one of the largest oil reserves in the world, but still suffers from huge poverty and inequality because of a series of terrible governments.

Up to a decade ago the right were embarrassed to talk about Venezuela because, because it was governed by a democratically-elected left-wing government that had take power from hugely corrupt predecessors who had kept the oil wealth for a tiny elite, leaving most of the country impoverished.

Venezuela became a socialist country where the media was free enough to not be called censored, the corruption was modest enough to be ignored, and the oil was flowing fast enough not to notice the economic incompetence. But the oil business and the largesse that it allowed the government to dole out basically wiped out the rest of the economy.

When the oil prices fell, more and more blatant election-fixing, and the closing down of more opposition-supporting TV stations was required to keep the government in power, and it began to be the left that was embarrassed about Venezuela. And there are plenty of reasons to be embarrassed.

The left wing government, led first by the charismatic Hugo Chávez, later the decidedly uncharismatic Nicolás Maduro have handled the economic difficulties with a spectacular level of incompetence, making things far worse with idiotic policies.

When the price of sugar shot up because of shortages, the government introduced a law mandating a maximum price at which sugar could be sold. Predictably, people just stopped producing and selling sugar,  to such an extent that Coca-Cola had to pull out of the country because they couldn’t produce their product… so, not all bad then, but when the price of toilet paper shot up, the government tried a different trick, they seized factories producing it. This is verbatim what the BBC wrote about it at the time.

The Venezuelan government has taken over a toilet paper factory to avoid any scarcity of the product. The National Guard has taken control of the plant, and officers will monitor production and distribution.

Earlier this year officials ordered millions of toilet rolls to be imported to counter a chronic shortage. Last week President Nicolas Maduro created a special committee to tackle the problem, which the government blames on unscrupulous traders.

If your president has to set up a special committee just to make sure you can wipe your ass, you may be governed by an economic incompetent.

Things came to a head in 2018 when the Maduro was elected in a fixed election, and an opposition leader, Juan Guaidó declared himself president. Guaidó was recognized by the US and many Western and South American countries as the legitimate president, but the organs of state in Venezuelan don’t, and he’s been left looking a little silly. He tried to stage a coup about a year ago, which failed miserably with only a few dozen soldiers taking his side.

The latest installment in this sorry tale has gotten surprisingly little attention.

Unsatisfied with the ability of the Venezuelan military to install him in power, it seems that the presidential pretender, Guaidó, wanted to hire foreign mercenaries to do the job. In The Prince, a book of advice for aspiring leaders, Niccolò Machiavelli, who gave us the word Machiavellian, warns them not to use mercenaries. They’re just not reliable.

Guaidó obviously didn’t read his Machiavelli. He’s denying it now, but it’s clear that he was involved in hiring the mercenaries, even if he broke relations which them later, and these clowns went ahead, apparently motivated by the $15m bounty that the US has placed on Maduro, they were planning to kidnap him and deliver him to Florida. It turns out that knuckleheads who leverage a fantasy land about their modest military careers to live in a fantasy land about being private James Bonds don’t fare so well when they collide with reality, and they are now cooling their heels in what I guess is a not very cool un-airconditioned Venezuelan prison.

Knuckleheads are knuckleheads, tin-pod dictators are tin-pod dictators and failed aspiring tin-pod dictators are another rung lower, but what about the US State Department offering a $15m bounty for the head of a foreign country? It’s phrased as a ‘reward for information leading to the capture’ but it would take an idiot not to realize that this is basically a ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive’ poster.

And after the coup attempt, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the US was not ‘directly’ involved, which is about as non-denial as a non-denial denial can get, although he said that if they had been ‘directly’ involved ‘it would have gone differently’. I bet. There are lots of reasons not to like Maduro, and his claim to democratic legitimacy is weak, to say the least. As President Trump himself said of another dictator, Maduro isn’t the only one with a dodgy record. If the US thinks that it’s a good idea to have a world where it’s normal for presidents offer prizes for each other’s heads, then they haven’t been studying Machiavelli much either.