Erratic leadership in Venezuela is driving country over a cliff
Is Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, once a mild-mannered bus driver, steering the world's 13th largest oil producer straight off a cliff?If you do not like Venezuela the worst thing you can do for the country is keep Maduro and his thugs in power. His one great accomplishment is proving once again that a command economy based on socialism is an abject failure. But he is not apparently good enough at that to dissuade supporters of Bernie Sanders.
Within the last few weeks he’s come to the brink of war with not one but two neighboring countries. A dispute last month with Colombia resulted in tens of thousands of refugees scrambling from a border region and caused one local politician to label him “The South American Hitler." Last week saw Maduro accused of plotting to invade Guyana, his neighbor to the east.
While experts warn that such risky behavior could destabilize the entire region, Maduro himself accuses Bogotá and Washington of being in league to overthrow him—and also boasts of having spies in the White House.
So just what is Maduro hoping to gain from all of this?
Hand-picked by the late socialist strongman Hugo Chavez as his replacement in 2013, Maduro has overseen the swift and profound decline of Venezuela—from an oil-rich, leftist powerhouse under Chavez to an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highest inflation rate in the world. When oil prices were high and revenues extravagant, that cushioned the people to some extent from the incompetence of the government. But that buffer is long gone.
Violent crime and kidnappings are so rampant that the State Department just issued a travel alert warning away U.S. citizens. And commodity shortages have become so severe that it’s sometimes impossible to buy a roll of toilet paper in Caracas.
Like many autocrats, Maduro appears to suffer from an acute case of political paranoia. He has cracked down on opposition leadership— handing out a 14-year-prison sentence to popular opposition leader Leopold Lopez earlier this month over trumped up charges. And he’s repeatedly authorized the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.
Not is Maduro’s persecution complex limited to domestic affairs. He recently claimed neighboring Colombia and Guyana are waging “economic war” against Venezuela—charges which conveniently justify violating the sovereignty of both nations.
“If he believes a lot of what he’s saying about the conspiracy theories against him, then he’s not the sanest man in the world,” says Adam Isaacson, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in an interview with The Daily Beast.