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What Does Venezuela tell us about the future of Turkey?

Oil-rich Venezuela is going through one of the worst economic crisis of their history. There is a huge drama in the country. According to the data by the IMF, the GNP of the country decreased by 45%. Inflation is expected to be around 13.800%. Because of the hunger and the violence, 1.7 million people were forced to emigrate. 

Maduro, who came to power after Chavez, identifies the problems as “the operation of external powers” while trying to consolidate his reign.

Turkey, geographically very far away from Venezuela, is on course to become another Venezuela step by step.

Two countries do not resemble each other geographically, historically, or sociologically but both countries are in the hands of the populist leaders, after evolving from democracy to dictatorship.

Venezuela collapsed economically, while Turkey is on the eve of a big economic and political crisis.  

How the success story turned into a nightmare?

Venezuela is going through the worst crisis of their history. The country is full of hunger and violence. Basic health services cannot be provided, and the diseases like cholera which were passed into oblivion are started to become an epidemic.

In fact, Venezuela was being pointed at as a success story. Especially for the Latin American left wing political landscape.

Popular leader of the country, Chavez, was idolized for his “anti-American actions and rhetoric. But what happened to the oil-rich Venezuela, which was mentioned as a “role model” in the region, became like this? What is the similarity between Venezuela and Turkey?

In the first place, Turkish people are largely familiar with the story of Venezuela.

Just like Erdoğan, Hugo Chavez came to power after a “huge economic crisis”, because of the “old-fashioned, illegal politicians”, and as the “hope of the oppressed population”.

His electoral campaign was based on the idea of “giving the oil funds to the public instead of the rich”.

Through the first years of his power, he followed moderate policies.

First, he listened the liberals, and representatives of different opinions, and offered them a right to speak. He tried to attract the foreign investors into the country. He increased the number of his votes thanks to his actions towards the poor population and economical relief.

In the eyes of the poor and uneducated population, Chavez became a hero.

But just like Erdoğan, after increasing his popularity and consolidating his power, he started to cast his allies away and follow authoritarian policies.

Media was their first target

Chavez had a very colorful personality.

He was getting on the television program called “Alo Presente”. Over time, he took all of the media under his control. Just like Erdoğan, Chavez did not allow any critical writer or journalist a chance to live.

Erdoğan did not host a television program on his name, but all of the Turkish media is now at his command. Every speech he makes is being televised live from tens of channels. All of the newspapers publish his statements widely.

Both Venezuela and Turkey turned into an open prison for the independent journalists. Chavez, just like Erdoğan, did not allow the slightest criticism.  

Crony capitalism and consolidation of power

Chavez started to practice an economic model, which was named as “Chavismo”, after him.

On the surface, there were “free market and private companies”, but Chavez and his “men” were behind all of them.

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Tayyip Erdoğan’s “Wealth Fund” project was simulated by Chavez under the name “National Development Fund.” He incorporated all of the public companies and he became the only voice towards this structure which did not have any transparency.

This structure where only Chavez had the final say, was named “the piggy bank of Chavez”.

Chavez ran “non-proportional” campaigns for the elections with this uncontrolled money. The country was filled with construction projects without any economic returns.

Erdoğan did the same in Turkey. Just like Chavez, Erdoğan also made unreasonable economic projects. Thanks to this, the partisan businessmen became rich. When they became rich, Erdoğan’s entourage also became rich.

Just like in Turkey, the businessmen close to Chavez, as the “winners of the public tenders”, become the new bosses of the media. Critical journalists were arrested. By the help of the “flexible law”, the opponents were arrested.

With every single incident which seemed “unpleasant for the government”, a broadcast ban was imposed. In fact, making news became a practice where courage was needed.

Anti-Americanism and “conspiracy loving” were the new trends.

Chavez and the predecessor Maduro identified every criticism and advice as a “movement by the external powers who did not want their country to improve”. “Economical war is started against our country” was the main phrase of the media of the government.

It was like the text of Maduro and Erdoğan’s speeches were written by the same people. Just like Maduro, Erdoğan regarded every criticism like a “coup”. He always repeated the phrases “superior mind”, and “the external powers who do not wish Turkey to improve.”

 Public sources turned into bribes

From the uncontrolled money, funds were transferred to the uneducated population and the country side before the elections. Just like Erdoğan, Chavez also made the help available in cash through the offices of the party in power for the voters.

Chavez, throughout the first years of his power, boosted the economic life thanks to the slightly high cruising oil prices. He built hospitals and cheap residences especially in the poor neighborhoods.  He provided employment. This being the case, a very familiar phrase to the Turkish people came alive: “If the corruption existed, how is it possible to invest so much?” or “He steals, but he works!”.

Chavez, just like Erdoğan, often made referendums and changes in the constitution. Step by step, he consolidated his “one-man regime”. As of 2004, there was nothing left from the independence of judiciary.

The justice system virtually entered into the “chief’s service”.

The judges who sentenced against the favor of the government were arrested or exiled. Opposition leaders were arrested. The biggest move of Chavez was to fill the high courts with his partisans. In fact, the high court became the “legalizing tool of the regime”. The Supreme Court in Turkey nearly became just like the Supreme Court in Venezuela.

The opponents arrested

Just like Chavez, Erdoğan also had the opponent politicians arrested. As a matter of fact, Selahattin Demirtaş, the leader of the 3rd biggest party and a presidency candidate in Turkey is in prison right now. A similar situation happened in Venezuela.

While the opponent politicians were being arrested, the others who criticize the government filled the prisons with sloppy accusations. Today, there are tens of thousands of political prisoners in the prisons of Venezuela. Another similarity with Turkey is the presence of the arrested mayors. Tens of mayors who are the members of the pro-Kurdish party, Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) are still in prison.

Chavez promised to fight against the “corruption and poverty” before coming to power, just like Erdoğan. But, under the name of “management effectiveness”, Chavez removed all of the controlling mechanisms one by one and finally his name was quoted right next to the corruptions.

In fact, corruption became a systematic problem in Venezuela. Just like in Turkey, the chance of survival in economic life for anybody who is “away from the government” became zero.

Today, it is not possible to do anything without a bribe both in Venezuela and Turkey. The corrupt ones are not being punished, and on top of that they are being rewarded by the government. The government per say manages this wheel.

In fact, Venezuela is now identified as a “mafia state”. Justice system is extremely politicized, and fully within the hands of the government. Under these circumstances, there is no effective justice system. Every single protest is being handled with the disproportional force of the police.

Political will polarize the population and creating “partisan groups”.

Rising star collapsed in ten years

Once upon a time Venezuela was the center of attraction and pointed out as a role model to the world by the Latin American left wingers, and now they are going through the biggest crisis of their history, due to these wrong policies.

Marketplaces are empty. Everything is in the black market. The staple products cannot be found. Emigration started from Venezuela to the neighbor countries. There are hundreds of casualties because of the violence. The economy is fully collapsed. In fact, just like in the final years of Saddam’s regime, the money is not being counted but being scaled.

The government is trying to dominate the agenda with anti-Americanism and conspiracy theories but the bridges are already burnt.

A lesson to Turkey

The similarities between Turkey and Venezuela is surprising. Although the Turkish economy is not collapsed like Venezuela. But the signals of an economic crisis are very strong.

The reason for the economic crash is the mistakes of the Erdoğan regime. Within this point of view, it is inevitable for Turkey to go bankrupt just like Venezuela in the near future.

The Venezuela experience dictates: “If you open doors for the single man reign, put the media under the order of the government, make a partisan justice system, make people believe in the conspiracy theories and pull the wool over the public’s eye with populist policies, the things which are going to happen are obvious.”

An academician from Venezuela warned me once in Washington: “Do not give credit to the one-man ruling. The uncontrolled management brings corruption and injustice. Do not politicize the justice system, do not let the media and the business world to go into the hands of the government. Do not support the bad management for little benefits. Otherwise you will try to kill each other for food and try to find a country to emigrate!”

You can look at Venezuela if you are wondering about the future of Turkey.

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Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Arslan
Adem Yavuz Aslan is a leading Turkish investigative journalist in exile based in Washington, D.C.

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