Stopping Venezuela’s Harvest of Sorrow

CARACAS – Two years ago, public protests erupted in both Kyiv and Caracas. Whereas Ukraine’s Revolution of Dignity quickly took power, political change in Venezuela followed a much slower path. But Venezuela’s parliamentary election on December 6, which gave the opposition a two-thirds majority, is moving political developments into the fast lane.

Although President Nicolás Maduro accepted defeat on election night, his government has promised to disregard any laws that the National Assembly enacts, and has appointed an alternative Assembly of the Communes not envisaged in the constitution. Moreover, he used the National Assembly’s lame-duck session to pack the Supreme Court and has called on supporters to prevent the newly elected Assembly from being seated on January 5. Like Ukraine two years ago, Venezuela is heading toward a constitutional crisis.

But there is an older and more ominous parallel between Venezuela and Ukraine: the Soviet Union’s man-made famine of 1933. Stalin’s decision in 1932 to force independent farmers – the kulaks – into large collectivized farms caused 3.3 million Ukrainians and ethnic Poles to starve to death the following year.

The catastrophe was unleashed when Stalin, convinced that the kulaks were hiding grain from the Soviet state, requisitioned the seed grain, believing that this would force the kulaks to use the hidden grain as seed. But there was no hidden grain – and thus no seed to plant the 1933 crop. Stalin blamed the ensuing collapse in food production on conspiracies by the dead and dying.