10
Mar

venezuela

As Venezuela passed the one-year anniversary of the death of strongman Hugo Chavez today, his successor Nicolás Maduro continued his crackdown against protestors demanding an end to corruption, rampant crime, and economic mismanagement. Since nationwide demonstrations began a month ago, clashes between Venezuelan security forces and protestors have resulted so far in at least 18 deaths and over 250 injuries.

Chavez’s socialist experiment has left Venezuela’s economy and society in shambles. A Gallup poll recently reported that the dire economic situation “pushed Venezuelan pessimism about the nation’s economy in 2013 to an all-time high-62% of Venezuelan adults said the economy is getting worse, while a record-low 12% said it was getting better.” Even official Venezuelan government figures show that one in four basic household goods, such as milk or toilet paper, is in short supply. What’s more, growth in violent crime has accompanied the oil-rich country’s economic slide. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory, a non-governmental group that tracks trends in crime, estimated that the country’s homicide rate had quadrupled since 1998.

As many thousands of Venezuelans across the country have taken to the streets to demonstrate against their deteriorating economic and social conditions, Maduro has used increasingly heavy-handed tactics to silence critics, control the flow of information, and violently suppress political dissent. Regime security forces have banned street protests, fired tear gas and pellets into crowds, and raided offices of opposition members, while also temporarily blocking users from sending or receiving Twitter images, taking a Colombian television station off the air, and threatening CNN and other international media stations covering the protests. News reports indicate the Maduro government has also utilized pro-regime gangs known as colectivos to crack down violently on protestors. As opposition deputy leader María Corina Machado-a member of Venezuela’s National Assembly whom pro-regime lawmakers physically attacked on the legislature’s floor last year-recently warned: “We live under ruthless repression not only by State security bodies, but also by colectivos, and armed paramilitary groups protected by the Government.”

The Maduro government’s resort to violence and intimidation reflects, in no small part, the regime’s growing fragility. Although Chavez used massive state oil revenues to buy public support, years of mismanagement at the state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela have brought the Maduro government’s foreign exchange reserves to a ten-year low. Moreover, Maduro’s failed currency reform has resulted in rampant, 56% inflation. For Maduro, the Wilson Center’s Eric Olson recently noted, “[p]ast strategies for navigating economic hardship with oil largesse are no longer viable given that oil production is falling, some unexploited oil has already been monetized, and the dual currency program is proving economically costly and increasingly untenable.” Read more…

Patrick Christy is a senior analyst at the Foreign Policy Initiative. Published on Mar. 6, 2014 in http://www.realclearworld.com

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