Things in Venezuela are bad and getting worse. The government of Nicolas Maduro, in trouble for quite some time, is increasingly perceived as cornered, possibly about to collapse - writes GIS Latin American expert Dr Joseph S. Tulchin.
The country’s inflation is the highest in the hemisphere and may hit hyper-inflationary levels (more than 100 per cent annually) by the end of 2015. This and other government-inflicted woes upset the lives of the poor – the social group that President Maduro and his predecessor and political patron, Hugo Chavez, used to count on for political support.
After months of pressure from the international community, Mr Maduro announced legislative elections for December 2015. That move seemed to put the ball back in the court of the opposition, which operates as a loose coalition known by their Spanish acronym, MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democratica). Recent polls indicate that support for the government has fallen to around 20 per cent, while that of MUD has steadily held close to 50 per cent over the past weeks. However, a recent field report by the International Crisis Group (ICG, an independent organisation devoted to preventing and resolving deadly conflicts) suggests that the pre-election situation in Venezuela is not clear-cut.
Key leaders of MUD are incarcerated on phony charges of inciting public violence (although one was removed to house arrest earlier this week) and the government steadily limits public expression of discontent with its policies, which makes campaigning tough. Also, the Maduro administration rejects criticism that it is its policies that have been causing the country’s immense problems. The long list of woes now includes the paralysis of Venezuela’s pubic health system, as the state’s price and currency controls have blocked the importation of critical medical supplies.
The Union of South American Nations (IUNASUR) has offered to send an electoral mission for the December vote. The opposition would prefer to see monitors from the Organization of American States, the United Nations and the Carter Center. President Maduro, while in the UN recently, declared that, ‘Venezuela…will not be monitored by anyone.’
The Venezuelan president resorts to many desperate moves in his attempts to stay in power. As I reported in a previous statement, he has rehashed centuryold territorial disputes with neighbouring Guyana and Colombia. The company ExxonMobil, it so happens, operating under a licence from the government of Guyana, announced the discovery of a significant oil reserve in one of the areas in question - the continental shelf off the mouth of the Essequibo River. After Venezuela rattled its sabres, the oil giant suspended its activities in the zone.
The ICG experts fear that Venezuela is headed towards a catastrophe. The collapse of the country’s public health system coupled with staple goods shortages, institutional weakness and administrative incompetence – all this in the context of growing political repression by the entrenched government – may lead to violence. Such a scenario, tragic to Venezuelans, would also have a profound impact on the country’s neighbours, including the small island states dependent on Venezuela’s oil, in addition to Colombia and Guyana.
The United States is not going to intervene in this crisis. The fledging Latin American regionalism has also fallen short of playing a role. We may have a drama on our hands before the end of the year. The time is right for leaders of the Latin American states to begin taking better care of their neighbourhood.