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 Is a Geopolitical Tinderbox

Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia shake hands at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 2, 2013
Presidents Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela and Vladimir Putin of Russia shake hands at the Kremlin in Moscow, July 2, 2013 (Presidential Press and Information Office)

Surges of protests against a deeply unpopular government have catapulted Venezuela from back-burner regional crisis to a hemispheric one. It’s only a Russian presidential visit away from becoming the world’s next geopolitical hot spot.

Medical supplies are running short, opposition leaders are calling for nationwide boycotts and now the Americans are rousing themselves to begin a sanctions regime against the beleaguered Maduro government.

It’s quite the fall from grace. From 2004 until 2013, Venezuela’s economy rocketed upward, bringing a measure of prosperity to a country long accustomed to hardship. It appeared, in those heady days, that Hugo Chávez, the country’s authoritarian ruler, could bring about his socialist Bolivarian Revolution and economic prosperity. For the Latin American left, Venezuela was proof that one did not have to conform to the neoliberal capitalism of the United States to be successful.

Alas, since 2013, the economy has slid further and further while inflation has hammered the country’s currency to the point of worthlessness.

With America now poking its nose directly into Venezuelan affairs, with the opposition building a shadow government and with the Russians trying to shore up Nicolás Maduro’s government through increasingly generous aid shipments, the country has all the ingredients of a major geopolitical crisis.

The Americans could find themselves sucked into an ever-expanding role in managing the Maduro regime; the opposition could give up on peaceful politics altogether and embark on an armed struggle; an opportunistic Vladimir Putin might wedge Russian power into South America in hopes of throwing the Americans off balance in Europe. 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

Trump Could Bring Enemies in South America Closer Together

Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro chairs the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Cochabamba, Bolivia, June 4, 2012
Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro chairs the General Assembly of the Organization of American States in Cochabamba, Bolivia, June 4, 2012 (OAS/Juan Manuel Herrera)

The alliance between Cuba and Venezuela has lost prominence in recent years as the former normalized its diplomatic relations with the United States while the latter doubled down on a self-described anti-imperialist policy.

Now Donald Trump’s presidency threatens to bring the two countries closer together again. Read more

Maduro Defiant as Venezuela Teeters on the Brink

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela delivers a news conference in Caracas, May 17
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela delivers a news conference in Caracas, May 17 (Prensa Miraflores/Marcelo García)

When Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won a two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly last year, it represented an unquestionable shift after sixteen years of socialist rule. There was desire for change. Not just from the traditional array of opponents to the ruling party government, but also from those who still call themselves Chavistas.

Those clamors, in part mobilized by the MUD, have become noticeably louder in recent weeks and months and protests have been firmly met by riot police and tear gas.

The country, home to the world’s largest oil reserves and previously one of the most developed in Latin America, is now suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate, varying between 180 and 700 percent. In the boom times, oil (which accounts for 95 percent of exports) helped pay for a million homes for the poor. Now, after three years of decline, with the sovereign wealth fund depleted and the economy expected to shrink by 8 percent, default is a distinct possibility.

Everyday Venezuelans are feeling the bite through shortages in electricity, food, water and medicine. The bare essentials of society have been stripped away and replaced by blackouts, endless queues for basic household goods, violence and looting. The country has the second highest murder rate in the world.

Desperation is in the air and its manifestations can no longer be passed off by the government as “revolts of the rich,” as was the case following similar protests in 2014. Read more

What Oil Prices Mean for Geopolitics

Oil industry in Eddy County, New Mexico, August 29, 2013
Oil industry in Eddy County, New Mexico, August 29, 2013 (Blake Thornberry)

2003 was a different era. The United States waged a war of choice in Iraq; Vladimir Putin’s Russia was seen as a paper tiger; China’s economic boom roared but didn’t threaten; Dubai was unknown; and the United States seemed like it would forever be an oil importer.

Much has changed. But today, the price of oil dropped to $27 a barrel, last seen in the heady days of the first W. Bush Administration.

There’s a lot going on here. Let’s get super. Read more

Venezuela Swears In Opposition Majority

The National Assembly of Venezuela sits in Caracas, February 28, 2013
The National Assembly of Venezuela sits in Caracas, February 28, 2013 (Prensa Miraflores)

After sixteen years of Chavismo, a symbolic new phase in Venezuelan politics began this week: members of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) took their seats in the National Assembly as part of a new two-thirds supermajority.

Prior to last month’s surprisingly peaceful parliamentary election, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had a majority of 96 out of 167 seats.

Because of the dire straits the country finds itself in, and in spite of considerable obstacles, the MUD has managed to increase their 63 seats to an overwhelming 112. Although an opposition victory was no surprise, the scale of the triumph has sent an unequivocal message of dissatisfaction with the “Bolivarian Revolution” in its current form. Read more