Venezuela’s embattled president Nicolas Maduro has found himself between a rock and a hard place with an abundance of political enemies, both at home and abroad. His approval ratings among the citizens of his oil-rich republic has dipped below 20 percent. In desperation, Maduro has even petitioned The Vatican and Pope Francis to intervene. Yet, this burly bully still insists on playing by his own rules.
Now, Maduro appears to be losing the support of MERCOSUR, the South American trading monopoly the late Hugo Chavez helped create. Back in September, the group gave Maduro a three month deadline to restore basic human rights and freedom of the press. When that didn’t happen, Venezuela was blackballed and forced to renegotiate its membership. It seems that after the impeachment of Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff and the rise of Mauricio Macri in Argentina, the continent’s political stance has shifted. As a result, even former Chavez cronies like Ecuador’s Rafael Correa has distanced himself from the iron-fist policies of Maduro, simply because its bad for business.
To be fair, Venezuela’s troubles aren’t entirely Maduro’s fault, even though he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. The beloved Chavez was the unofficial king of South America because he pumped up economies in neighboring nations, as well as far away rogue states, with massive petroleum profits. But Hugo was no economist and didn’t have a Plan B when oil prices plummeted. Maduro, an ex-union boss, inherited the mess and lacked the Chavez charisma and intelligence to solve an enormous problem.
During this holiday season, Maduro has tried to be a good guy and play Santa Claus, seizing almost four million toys from Distribuidora Kreisel warehouses around Caracas, with a promise to deliver them to kids in the city’s poorest barrios. The heist was a classic maneuver taken from the Chavez playbook. The only problem is that the main concern of the poor and dwindling middle class is to put food on the table. Unfortunately, triple-digit inflation has rendered the bolivar nearly worthless, and Maduro’s government-run super markets suffer from long lines with empty shelves.
Yes, the ruling regime is reeling, which is why Maduro welcomed the idea of peace talks sponsored by The Vatican as a way of buying time. Currently on trial in the opposition-controlled Senate, Maduro insisted that the first order of business be to defuse all recall efforts. Jesus Torrealba of the MUD coalition agreed in good faith, but countered that all political prisoners headed by Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma should be released. Maduro stalled only to later balk at the demand, causing Torrealba to suspend further meetings. Now the crisis is back to square one and all bets are off.
As a former baseball scout and longtime regional journalist, I have many friends in Venezuela and the desperate situation there makes me sick to my stomach. Nicolas Maduro, the vast majority of your people don’t want you to be president anymore. Take your millions of U.S. dollars and move to Spain before the “Fatherland” erupts into civil war. It’s the right thing to do so folks can begin to take back their lives under new leadership.
-Steve Randel -photo credit: seekingalpha.com