Venezuela self-imposes Mad Men sanctions

I think it’s safe to say that Venezuela’s economy has seen better days.  The government has been issuing something that looks an awful lot like food rationing cards.  Now the Financial Times’ Benedict Mander reports that Venezuela’s new currency controls are affecting its import sector in a really sensitive area:  Unable to access enough dollars, local ...

By , a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka
Michael Buckner/Getty Images for Belvedere Vodka

I think it's safe to say that Venezuela's economy has seen better days.  The government has been issuing something that looks an awful lot like food rationing cards.  Now the Financial Times' Benedict Mander reports that Venezuela's new currency controls are affecting its import sector in a really sensitive area

Unable to access enough dollars, local importers are feeling the pinch across a wide range of goods, from Scotch whisky, the nation’s favourite drink, to luxury foods and swanky cars....

Each month, whisky importers – some of the worst hit – say they can legally get only as much foreign currency as they would normally use in a day. Bars and restaurants fear the reaction when they run dry. “We’ve got enough boxes to last a few more weeks, but after that, I’m worried about what will happen,” said the manager of one bar.

I think it’s safe to say that Venezuela’s economy has seen better days.  The government has been issuing something that looks an awful lot like food rationing cards.  Now the Financial Times’ Benedict Mander reports that Venezuela’s new currency controls are affecting its import sector in a really sensitive area

Unable to access enough dollars, local importers are feeling the pinch across a wide range of goods, from Scotch whisky, the nation’s favourite drink, to luxury foods and swanky cars….

Each month, whisky importers – some of the worst hit – say they can legally get only as much foreign currency as they would normally use in a day. Bars and restaurants fear the reaction when they run dry. “We’ve got enough boxes to last a few more weeks, but after that, I’m worried about what will happen,” said the manager of one bar.

The irony, of course, is that Venezuela is doing to itself what the United States has been trying to do to North Korea for years (and re-emphasized in the past few months) —  denying access to luxury goods for the elites. 

Let’s call these kind of measures Mad Men sanctions, shall we?  Anything that embargoes sumptuous indulgences — including alcohol, cigarettes, and Christina Hendricks — counts as a Mad Men sanction.  The question is, whether self-imposed or externally imposed, do they make a difference? 

With respect to North Korea, I think the answer is pretty clearly no.  This is mildly surprising.  Even though I’m pretty skeptical about these kind of sanctions in general,  the DPRK is one of the few countries where Mad Men sanctions truly are "smart."  The North Korean elite leads a very segmented life, and making it harder to get Johnny Walker Blue affects very few average North Koreans.  That said, while the North Korean elite appears to be tottering just a little, it’s not because they’re going into Scotch withdrawal. 

Of course, there is a difference between an external actor imposing a Mad Men embargo and an internal actor screwing up the economy to the point that a petrostate needs to husband foreign exchange reserves.  For IR grad students out there, it’s a good test:  is a regime hurt more from an externaly-created embargo or from an internally-created one? 

[And what about the IR effects of Christina Hendricks?–ed.  Definitely a question that begs for further research.  Dibs!!–ed.]

Developing….

Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, where he is the co-director of the Russia and Eurasia Program. Twitter: @dandrezner

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