The Caracas Crunch
May 25 2016 (Dawn, Pakistan) – After Uruguay`s former president José Mujica last week declared that Nicolás Maduro was `mad as a goat`, the latter chose to wear the insult as a badge of honour, announcing at a rally: `Yes, I`m as mad as a goat, it`s true. I`m mad with love for Venezuela, for the Bolivarian revolution, for Chavez and his example.
In other words, he pretty much bore out Mujica`s diagnosis. With most Venezuelans embroiled in a daily struggle to obtain commonplace necessities, amid dire shortages and a rate of inflation purportedly in the vicinity of 500pc (by any measure the highest in the world), whatever remains of the Bolivarian revolution clearly isn`t delivering the goods. And the example of Hugo Chavez, notwithstanding his various flaws, can only be sullied by association with the unsustainable state of affairs in Venezuela today.
Small wonder, then, that even long-standing Chavistas are expressing their disenchantment with Maduro in increasing numbers. As one of them told a foreign correspondent earlier this month, `We voted for Maduro because of a promise we made Chavez, but that promise has expired. Either they solve this problem, or we`re going to have to take to the streets.
A little more than three years af ter Chavez sadly succumbed to cancer, there can be little question that his designated successor`s administration has been an unmitigated disaster. This may not purely be a consequence of poor governance, but the latter has undoubted contributed considerably to the current disarray.
Among oil-producing nations, Venezuela has been worst hit by the precipitous decline in the international price of the commodity.
The failure to diversify is a key culprit here: it was never wise to assume that oil prices would remain high. The energy sector has also been hit by a particularly grievous drought, leading to increasingly common power blackouts and pleas from Maduro that women should relinquish hairdryers for the time being.
A 60-day emergency the president instituted at the start of the year remains in place.
The working week for many government servants has been cut down to two days. There were, meanwhile, huge military exercises last week, amid hints from Maduro that the army would be deployed to maintain law and order.
There has thus far been no indication of military disloyalty despite overtures from the opposition which won a decisive majority in last December`s parliamentary elections amid spiralling popular dismay over the government`s spectacularineffectiveness-butthere can be no guarantee this won`t change, especially if Maduro proves to be stupid enough to contemplate a direct blow against democracy.
He has hinted that parliament can be overridden, amid an opposition effort to curtailMaduro`s six-year term by instituting a recall referendum. Chavez, too, faced such a move, and was able to emerge triumphant from a popular vote. His successor is presumably well aware that he would fail to pull off a similar victory, and his administration apparently is keen to put off a vote until next year, past the halfway mark of Maduro`s presidency, when defeat would merely lead to his replacement by his deputy whereas his loss in a recall referendum this year would automatically lead to a fresh presidential election.
Maduro is doing his ostensible side of polltics no favours by clinging on to power, though. That`s not to suggest that the opposition is a desirable alternative. Many of its components represent forces that resisted Chavez`s policies precisely because they were progressive: they saw nothing advantageous in initiatives to abolish illiteracy or to bring healthcare, with large-scale Cuban assistance, to the favelas where many families had never before encountered a doctor. Theydetested the social programmes that kept Chavez afloat: the beneficiaries of his government`s reforms were sufficiently numerous to guarantee anunprecedented string of electoral successes.
Last December`s result wasn`t so much an anomaly as an indication that something had gone very wrong. And almost everything Maduro has attempted since then merely reinforces that impression. Were he to face up forthwith to a recall referendum and promptly bow out thereafter, the seeds sown during the heyday of Chavismo may well survive to bear fruit in the aftermath of the next inevitable failure of neoliberalism.
Anti-democratic measures, on the other hand, would merely serve to bury whatever remains of the so-called Bolivarian revolution.
The comment by Mujica cited at the outset came in the context of a spat between Maduro and the secretary general of the Organisation of American States, Luis Almagro, Mujica`s formerforeignminister,whomtheVenezuelan leader derided as a traitor and a CIA agent after he warned Maduro against dictatorial tendencies.
The CIA was, no doubt, once keen to depose Chavez and would be delighted to see the back of his successor. And it may well be taking a keen interest in the current goings-on in Caracas, but the fact is that the Maduro administration has effectively dug its own grave.
This story was originally published by Dawn, Pakistan