With Sean Penn’s Help, Venezuela Finally Achieves Utopian Socialist ParadisePosted: May 19, 2016
The country is poised between chaos and dictatorship
“THIS government is going to fall!” chanted hundreds of protesters alongside the Avenida Libertador in central Caracas. Staring them down were ranks of security forces—from the police, the national guard and the feared, black-uniformed SEBIN (secret police)—charged with making sure that does not happen. Looming above was a huge grinning portrait of the late president, Hugo Chávez.
The protesters’ aim on May 18th was, as it has been on two previous occasions this month, to march to the offices of the National Electoral Council (CNE). The supposedly independent, but nakedly biased, institution has been delaying its consideration of a petition it was handed weeks ago, the first stage of a process to recall Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, through a referendum. With government forces blocking all routes to the CNE, the protesters were never likely to get close.
When a handful broke through the cordon, some attacking the police, the authorities had the excuse they needed. Multiple, deafening volleys of acrid tear gas burst above the crowd. At least 18 people were wounded and 26 detained. Pamela, a retired agricultural engineer in her 70s, was standing outside her home overlooking the avenue, holding a small handwritten cardboard sign saying “Maduro. Resign Now!” Tears in her eyes, she retreated inside. “This breaks my heart,” she said.
The regime may feel the day was a success. The protests were not huge. The poor have yet to stream down from the barrios en masse to demand the president’s ouster. But they are enraged and the government is worried. Almost 70% of Venezuelans want Mr Maduro to leave office this year, according to a recent poll. That demand is fuelled by the appalling deterioration of living standards under his incompetent rule. Venezuela is suffering the world’s deepest recession. Self-defeating price and currency controls and rampant corruption are causing shortages of everything from medicines to rice. “I am here because I am sick of queuing from dawn,” said José Galeano, a protester who describes himself as a poor man. “This has to end.”
Across Venezuela, small protests are now commonplace. Social media are awash with videos of shoppers plundering supermarkets and brawling with each other. As crime soars, the lynching of petty criminals is becoming more common.
The desperation such incidents reveal is dismissed by the increasingly delusional Mr Maduro during his endless television appearances. The shortages, he says, are the consequence of an “economic war” waged by enemies at home and abroad. Some in Caracas joke that he must be the only man who can claim to fight a fictional war, and then lose it. But they fear the direction his rule might now take.
After the May 18th protests he threatened to supersede the current economic state of emergency (announced five days earlier) with a “state of internal commotion”. Whereas the first gives him powers such as instructing the army to supervise the production and distribution of food, the second would give him the ability to impose something closer to military rule across the country.
Many in the opposition think this could signal the start of an “auto-coup”, in which the government escalates the crisis so that it has an excuse to suspend democracy and constitutional norms. Mr Maduro has already indicated that he will govern without regard to the National Assembly, which came under the control of the opposition after elections last December. “It is a matter of time before it disappears,” he said blithely at a press conference on May 17th. During the same event, held to rebut supposed lies told about him by international media, he refused to provide any information about the economy….(read more)
Source: The Economist