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18 January, 2019 00:00 00 AM
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The future looks bleak for Nicolas Maduro

Sholto Byrnes
The future looks bleak for Nicolas Maduro
A flag held by a demonstrator against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas

Last week’s announcement by the Lima Group of Latin American countries that Nicolas Maduro should step aside from the presidency of Venezuela was followed, over the weekend, by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s statement that the nation’s current regime was “illegitimate”. These are powerful and condemnatory words, but entirely justified.

Quite apart from the seriously flawed nature of last year’s election, which  Maduro won so decisively that the 14 Lima Group countries withdrew their ambassadors from Caracas; and quite apart from his abuses of the country’s constitution, such as setting up an illegal Constituent Assembly because he couldn’t control the democratically elected National Assembly.
 Maduro deserves to go if only because of his sheer incompetence. The litany of economic disasters that have struck Venezuela under his rule has to be spelled out to be believed.
According to The Economist, the country now produces less oil than it did in the 1950s. Three million people have emigrated – that is a full 10 per cent of the population, with more expected to follow. The International Monetary Fund expects inflation to hit 10 million per cent this year. The healthcare system, once a model for the region, is in crisis, while the number of Venezuelans considered to be “undernourished” by the UN rose from five per cent ¬between 2008 and 2013 to nearly 12 per cent in 2018.
The difference between the state of the country under  Maduro and his predecessor and mentor, the late Hugo Chavez, is both startling and tragic. Chavez had many critics, on both the right and the left, who considered him authoritarian and illiberal. He may also have been lucky that the price of oil rose pretty consistently during his time in office from 1999 to 2013. This allowed him to create a “socialism that works” – with huge achievements in literacy, poverty reduction, housing and health – that appeared to be a model for left-wingers in South America and beyond.  Maduro has not had that kind of wealth at his disposal. But Chavez was also a ¬genuinely inspirational and charismatic leader, who was elected freely and fairly again and again.  Maduro, on the other hand, is an unsophisticated thug who will never have a political ideology named after him as Chazev did, and whose support is draining away as rapidly at home as it is abroad.
He should definitely go. The question is how.  Pompeo also said during his visit to Abu Dhabi that “the United States will work diligently to restore a real democracy to that country”. Even those who have been harsh critics of American meddling in the affairs of other countries might concede that this could be one incidence in which US intervention could come in useful. But, given the dark history of US covert operations in the region – including giving the green light to an attempted coup against  Chavez – it is crucial that America keeps its involvement to a minimum.
The best result would be for Venezuelans to bring about change themselves, as Filipinos did in the People Power Revolution of 1986. That, however, took a combination of mass demonstrations in ¬Manila, support from key ¬military figures – including the defence minister and chief of police – and the ¬Catholic church. It also involved ¬President Ferdinand ¬Marcos knowing he could flee the country with probable immunity.
The role of the church is unlikely to be so important in Venezuela today, and while the country’s bishops have also declared  Maduro’s new term as president to be illegitimate, the Vatican still sent a representative to his inauguration.   But are other similar enabling circumstances possible? Juan Guiado, the president of the National Assembly who has said he should be considered the legitimate head of government instead of  Maduro, may think so. He has called for mass demonstrations on ¬January 23, the anniversary of the 1958 uprising that overthrew ¬another Venezuelan strongman, Marcos Perez Jimenez.

The writer is a Kuala Lumpur-based commentator and consultant and a corresponding fellow of the Erasmus Forum

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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