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.”