Belmont Club

Venezuela: Socialism Dies in the Darkness

(AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

“A major power outage hit crisis-stricken Venezuela on Thursday, according to Reuters … a problem the government of President Nicolas Maduro quickly blamed on “sabotage” at a hydroelectric dam that provides much of the country’s power.” National life ground to a standstill, telecommunications — including the internet — stopped working, hospitals were plunged into darkness and cities of millions lay helpless without electricity.

As the outage continued into Friday spreading to every Venezuelan state, it became clear this was going to become the biggest of the blackouts yet and Maduro’s officials increasingly pointed a finger at the United States.  But the national electric grid had also been teetering for a long time. “Crumbling infrastructure and lack of investments have hit Venezuela’s power supply for years.” Outages had become a way of life and there was no easy way of proving this wasn’t “sabotage” but only more of the same dysfunction.

The government has blamed the outages on a variety of things — including pesky animals. In an Oct. 20 tweet, Energy Minister Luis Motta Dominguez named “rats, mice, snakes, cats, squirrels” as possible culprits in shorting out lines. He added: “In the list of animals mentioned above, of course iguanas are included.”

Critics, however, say insufficient investment by the government is the cause, following the 2007 nationalization of the electricity sector.

There was nevertheless circumstantial evidence for deliberate human action. For one thing, Maduro himself had long embarked on cyber attacks against his political enemies. Netblocks:

Twitter image and video servers and platform backends have been blocked in Venezuela from 3:10 PM UTC on state provider CANTV (AS8048) and its mobile network Movistar, as interim leader Juan Guaidó is set to arrive in Caracas after a tour of neighboring countries. The restrictions have been implemented as the leader calls supporters to the streets under the hashtags #4MVzlaALaCalle, #VamosVzla and #VamosJuntosALaCalle,” according to Netblocks, a site which monitors network suppression throughout the world.

Maduro had been suppressing opposition YouTube channels also. “YouTube has been restricted by Venezuela’s state-run internet provider CANTV (AS8048) for over twenty hours, according to current network measurements from the NetBlocks internet observatory. Incident timings indicate a start time coinciding with live broadcasts from the country’s National Assembly on Wednesday.”

One might speculate that Maduro had Russian help in crafting these attacks.  After all, the Kremlin was reported to have taken down Ukraine’s power grid in 2015 and 2016 and might reasonably be supposed to know something about cyberwarfare.

The researchers describe that malware, which they’ve alternately named “Industroyer” or “Crash Override,” as only the second-ever known case of malicious code purpose-built to disrupt physical systems. The first, Stuxnet, was used by the US and Israel to destroy centrifuges in an Iranian nuclear enrichment facility in 2009.

Given his own guilt, Maduro would probably expect turnabout. Who knows but that even now Russian engineers are looking over the Venezuelan grid for signs that Kilroy was there?  But although there’s a natural human tendency to ascribe dramatic developments to conspiracy, it’s possible to overstate it. Most of the damage to the Venezuelan power grid was indisputably caused by the mismanagement of Chavez and Maduro.  They weakened it to the point of fragility.  To paraphrase John le Carre, “the Bolivarian knight was dying in his armor.” All that remained was to knock it over with a feather.

Socialism almost never loses to human agency. It’s too good at propaganda and repression to be beaten easily by men. What kills it nine times out of ten, if one will pardon the expression, is God. Financial collapse, famine, pandemic, hyperinflation do most of the work. Cyber Command — or iguanas — do the rest.

Yet the Venezuelan blackout also provides a lesson in how vulnerable modern societies are to disruption.  There was a lot more self-sufficiency 150 years ago when people lived off the grid. Today, much of the world depends on systems of hideous complexity to get food, water, and power and would be sore-pressed to live without it. Then some, like Venezuela, will put socialists in charge of this complex infrastructure. What could go wrong?

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