European Fellow Travelers Refuse to Criticize Venezuelan Dictator

Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro meets with officials in Caracas, February 19, 2015
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro meets with officials in Caracas, February 19, 2015 (Prensa Miraflores)

Seventeen Latin American nations, including those run by leftists, agree Venezuela is now a “dictatorship” under Nicolás Maduro.

For most of his presidency, Maduro has ruled by decree. When the opposition won a majority of the seats in parliament, he replaced it with a Constituent Assembly full of cronies. Critical lawmakers have been arrested. A “truth commission” is being established to investigate thoughtcrimes. Instead of seeing high crime and low growth rates as evidence of the failure of Venezuela’s socialist experiment, the crude and homophobic Maduro entertains anti-American and anticapitalist conspiracy theories.

Yet left-wing admirers of Hugo Chávez will not see his heirs for the thugs they have become. Read more

Venezuela Lurches Toward Authoritarianism

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela waves at crowds during an Independence Day parade, July 5, 2016
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela waves at crowds during an Independence Day parade, July 5, 2016 (Prensa Presidencial/Yoset Montes)

Venezuela has plummeted to new depths. In an act of blatant disregard of the separation of powers, the Supreme Court has stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its lawmaking power and revoked immunity from all assembly members after accusing parliamentarians of “contempt”.

This latest step toward authoritarianism was denounced as a “coup” and “a final blow to democracy” — not just by opposition parties, but by the international community and even some within the government (the state attorney general). Read more

Maduro Accuses America of Plotting to Destroy Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela gestures during an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour that was broadcast March 7
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela gestures during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that was broadcast March 7 (EFE)

Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro seemed oblivious to his own government’s responsibility for the country’s economic crisis during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that was broadcast on Friday. Instead, he blamed right-wing “extremists” for stirring violence and accused them of plotting with the United States to undermine Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Praising Venezuela’s socialist revolution, which Maduro said was still “under construction” fifteen years after his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, first came to power, the president argued that his was not the only country with problems. During the interview, he repeatedly compared Venezuela to the United States which does not have free education or free health care. “Venezuela has its own problems,” he admitted, “but the problems that we don’t have are the problems of poverty.”

Yet the country, which is believed to possess the world’s largest oil reserves, is struggling with shortages in basic goods such as toilet paper and has had to import refined oil products. Inflation has soared as the government printed money to continue to pay for an expansive welfare state, resulting in steep price increases which Maduro blamed on “capitalist parasites.”

The president assumed decree powers late last year to fight what he described as “economic sabotage,” a claim he repeated in the CNN interview. “We were the target of economic war, because the right-wing sectors in Venezuela, they thought that since President Chávez had died it was the end of the revolution,” he said. “They started an operation to destroy our economy.”

Echoing Chávez’ tirades against American “imperialism” in Latin America, Maduro also alleged that the United States had “conspired to put an end of the revolution” and were seeking economic as well as “military control” in the region.

Maduro narrowly won a presidential election in April last year, a month after Chávez died of cancer.

The anniversary of Chávez’ death this year has been overshadowed by mass protests against the socialist government in which up to twenty people have died. Demonstrators, calling for Maduro’s resignation, have been battling both security forces and militias loyal to the regime in the streets of Caracas, the capital.

Despite the concentration of power in the president’s hands and the weakening of the judiciary and suppression of independent media in Venezuela, Maduro said he was not worried about losing democratic legitimacy. “You tell me any other country that has had nineteen elections in fifteen years.”

Maduro Asks Decree Powers as Venezuela Inflation Soars

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela prepares to address the National Assembly in Caracas, January 15
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela prepares to address the National Assembly in Caracas, January 15 (Prensa Miraflores)

Venezuela’s legislature is expected to give President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for a year after a dissenting ruling party lawmaker was stripped of her parliamentary immunity on Tuesday and replaced by a government loyalist.

The lawmaker, María Aranguren, said the government trumped up charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a crime against her as part of a witch hunt meant to obtain the last vote it needed to adopt the enabling law.

Maduro first asked the legislature to give him special powers in October to fight corruption and “economic sabotage.”

On Sunday, the government announced the arrest of store managers in what it described as an “economic war” between the socialist state and unscrupulous businessmen. “They are barbaric, these capitalist parasites!” the president alleged on Thursday. “We have more than one hundred of the bourgeoisie behind bars at the moment.”

Shopkeepers justified this year’s price spikes by saying they have been forced to buy dollars for imports on the black market at nearly ten times the official exchange rate.

According to the libertarian Cato Institute’s Steve H. Hanke, Venezuela’s bolivar has lost more than 62 percent of its value against the American dollar since its former socialist leader Hugo Chávez died of cancer in March after spending fourteen years in power. Maduro, his former deputy, won just over 50 percent support in a presidential election that was called a month later.

His government has responded to high inflation by imposing strict capital and price controls. “But those policies have failed,” writes Hanke, “resulting in shortages of critical goods, such as toilet paper, without addressing the root cause of Venezuela’s inflation woes.”

Official figures insist that inflation is just over 50 percent but Hanke puts it at 283 percent.

Maduro blames “bourgeois parasites” and intends to use his decree powers to set legal limits on companies’ profit margins at between 15 and 30 percent. He also promises “zero tolerance with speculators.”

A more likely cause of Venezuela’s high inflation is its unbridled monetary expansion which has been necessary to pay for the generous welfare state Chávez erected. Revenues from the nationalized oil companies allowed the state to subsidize education and food as well as social housing but lack of investment has hampered the industry’s development, forcing the Latin American country to import refined oil products even if it is the world’s tenth largest petroleum exporter.

Venezuela’s Maduro Fails to Imitate Chávez’ Success

Nicolás Maduro, then Venezuela's foreign minister, attends a summit of the Organization of American States in Cochabamba, Bolivia, June 4, 2012
Nicolás Maduro, then Venezuela’s foreign minister, attends a summit of the Organization of American States in Cochabamba, Bolivia, June 4, 2012 (OAS/Juan Manuel Herrera)

Acting president Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner in Venezuela’s election on Sunday, defeating the opposition’s candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski by over 200,000 votes, according to the state’s election board.

Maduro succeeds the Latin American nation’s fiery socialist leader Hugo Chávez who died of cancer last month after fourteen years in power.

Although Capriles, who won 44 percent of the votes in last year’s election against Chávez and just under 49.1 percent on Sunday, according to the official results, accused the ruling party of fraud and demanded a recount, it is unlikely that Maduro’s victory will be reversed. “We will know what to do if someone raises their insolent voice against the people,” the socialist warned on Sunday night.

Still, Maduro’s unexpectedly narrow win — opinion polls had predicted a landslide — casts doubt on the ruling party’s ability to hold on to power without its popular leader.

Chávez’ protégé lacks the charisma that enabled the deceased former president to win four consecutive elections and influence the politics of neighboring countries, including Bolivia and Ecuador where Presidents Evo Morales and Rafael Correa, respectively, imitated his populist left-wing policies.

Risa Grais-Targow, an associate with the Eurasia Group consultancy, expects that Maduro, lacking a base of support of his own, “will struggle to manage internal disputes, especially as social discontent rises in a deteriorating economic environment.”

She writes at Quartz that the new president’s priority will likely be to reverse social discontent, “which means he is unlikely to make needed economic adjustments.”

Foreign exchange and price controls will remain in place. Maduro might pursue even more stringent state controls to “prove his revolutionary credentials,” like pushing an antitrust law through parliament.

The National Assembly is considering a law that would empower the government “to confiscate any business that it deems not acting in the public interest,” writes José R. Cárdenas at Foreign Policy. It would install a panel that decides whether a company has a “decisive domain” over the setting of prices or other market conditions in a particular industry, without stipulating what “decisive domain” means.

In other words, any successful company runs the risk of confiscation at any time by crossing the government’s arbitrary line of being “too successful.” And with the judicial sector also controlled by the government, private companies are left with no outlet to appeal adverse decisions.

Cárdenas predicts that the law will depress private-sector production and further tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned enterprises which are exempt from it.

Chávez hugely expanded the public sector and nationalized key industries, including oil. But lack of industrial development has forced Venezuela to import refined oil products even if it is the world’s tenth largest petroleum exporter.

The country has also had to cope with energy and food shortages as well as skyrocketing inflation that is projected to top 30 percent this year.

Market reforms are needed to revitalize Venezuela’s economy which the consultancy firm Ecoanalitica projects will expand less than 1 percent this year. Maduro, however, lacks the political credibility and quite probably the will to deviate from the party line and tamper with his predecessor’s legacy.

Significant changes in economic policy are unlikely in the short term even if more Venezuelans than preelection polls suggested apparently agree with Capriles that the current model is “not viable.”

Chávez Protégé Projected to Win Venezuela Election

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his deputy Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

Opinion polls predict that former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’ chosen successor, acting president Nicolás Maduro, will win Sunday’s election against the centrist candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, allowing the ruling party to continue Chávez’ self-declared socialist revolution

Shortly before he traveled to Cuba late last year where he underwent cancer treatment, Chávez anointed Maduro his successor. “My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”

Chávez defeated Capriles in October of last year but died before he could start a fourth term as president. A surge of grief and sympathy bordering on deification of the deceased socialist leader looks certain to propel his deputy Maduro to power. “I am the son of Chávez,” he told supporters during a rally in the capital Caracas on Thursday.

Maduro earlier derided his opponent as a “little bourgeois” and puppet of Venezuela’s wealthy as well as the United States which Chávez routinely accused of meddling in South American politics.

Capriles’ rhetoric has been no less urgent. “Sunday we’re going to choose between life and death,” he said Thursday. “If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government.”

Yet the liberal governor of Miranda state has simultaneously tried to appeal to Chávez supporters and directed his criticism at his heirs whose socialism, he said earlier this month, is “skin deep.”

They talk of socialism but it’s on the surface only. Look how those well connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have.

Capriles described himself as a “progressive” and said he would imitate the economic and social reforms of Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva, a socialist who opened his country to international trade and investment while spending generously on education and welfare programs. Capriles even denounced the “savage capitalism” of corrupt government officials.

The leftist rhetoric does not appear to have boosted the opposition candidate’s popularity. If he defies the odds and does emerge the victor from Sunday’s election, it will likely be because a majority of Venezuelans realized that Chávez’ “revolutionary” socialism hasn’t much improved their nation’s economic prospects.

Although rich in natural resources, Venezuela has had to cope with energy and food shortages in the latter years of Chávez’ presidency. It is the world’s tenth largest oil exporter but a net importer of refined products due to lack of hydrocarbon industry development since the sector was nationalized.

Inflation in March alone was 2.8 percent, suggesting that the annual rate will top 30 percent by year’s end. “Every day it’s harder to find food and every day food is more expensive,” Capriles said in March. “This model is not viable.”

Most Venezuelans seem to disagree.

Venezuela’s Maduro Defies Constitution, Assumes Power

Venezuela's vice president Nicolás Maduro participates in a discussion on housing policy, January 11
Venezuela’s vice president Nicolás Maduro participates in a discussion on housing policy, January 11 (Prensa Miraflores)

After announcing socialist president Hugo Chávez’ death on Tuesday, Venezuela’s vice president Nicolás Maduro assumed power in defiance of the Constitution, which stipulates that the speaker of the National Assembly should become interim president.

Chávez died after a two year battle with cancer and ruling the Latin American nation for fourteen years. He was elected to a fourth term in October of last year but could not be inaugurated on January 10 due to his illness. According to the country’s highest law, Diosdado Cabello, the speaker of parliament, should therefore assume the presidency until a snap election is called within thirty days.

Maduro has served as de facto president in Chávez’ absence and Elías Jaua, the foreign minister, confirmed on Tuesday that he would continue to govern in that capacity. He will also stand as the ruling party’s presidential candidate in the next election for which a date has yet to be set.

Shortly before his last trip to Cuba where Chávez underwent cancer treatment, the former president anointed Maduro his successor. “My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said in December. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”

Maduro is believed to enjoy stronger support from within the ruling party than Cabello as well as from Cuba which is Venezuela’s most important ally in the region. The communist regime there depends on cheap Venezuelan oil and investments to keep its economy afloat. In 2011, Venezuela accounted for $8.3 billion of Cuba’s $20 billion in foreign trade.

If he wins the election, Maduro is unlikely to push for significant changes in economic and foreign policy. Like Chávez, he has been fiercely critical of the United States which just a day before his mentor’s death, he accused of poisoning the president. After he was detained by security screeners at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2006, he denounced the United States government as “Nazi” and “racist” and said it did not appreciate Latin American nations.

Maduro has also advocated rapprochement with neighboring Colombia, however, where a right-wing government, allied to the United States, crushed a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla that sympathized with and was supported by Venezuela’s leftist regime.