Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro recalled his top diplomat in Washington, Maximilien Sánchez Arveláiz, in a huff-and-puff state-televised address condemning the United States and proclaiming a national plan to “end imperialism” in his country.
Maduro’s fiery proclamation came on the heels of President Barack Obama’s renewal of sanctions against officials in that South American nation and a decree labeling Venezuela as an “unusual and extraordinary threat” to U.S. national security.
In his incendiary discourse, Maduro responded to Obama’s decree by calling his administration a “right-wing oligarchy” and accusing the United States of “arrogance, prepotency and intrigue.”
Maduro’s verbal tantrum was clearly intended to distract the Venezuelan people’s attention from the fact that the once-oil-rich country is now on the verge of economic collapse, with sky-high inflation (expected to surpass 200 percent this year), spiraling unemployment and shortages of everything from medications to toilet paper.
His objective was to instead direct their focus on a shared hatred for the Big Bad United States.
Maduro, who came to power after the death of his mentor and role model Hugo Chávez in 2013, has repeatedly blamed Washington for the failure of his Chavista government, and last week’s tirade was just another exercise in inflammatory anti-American rhetoric.
But the left-wing demagogue – who has been crying “wolf” about U.S. interventionist tactics and covert plots to overthrow his regime practically since the day he took office – may have miscalculated just how much political patter his people are willing to accept in lieu of real economic reforms.
Maduro, who has so far only exacerbated Venezuela’s teetering economic instability with his antediluvian socialist policies and draconian crackdowns on democracy, may be pointing to threats to his presidency from abroad, but he is, in fact, far more concerned about the dangers he faces from within his country.
Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party is currently maneuvering for the removal of Maduro, and its progressive platform for a more open economy and society is quickly gaining traction.
Last December, the MUD won a landslide victory over Maduro’s United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) in legislative elections.
Interpreting its win as a green light to take action against Maduro, the MUD gave the Venezuelan president a six-month deadline to either solve the country’s economic crisis or step down.
Not surprisingly, Maduro shoo-shooed the MUD’s ultimatum as antigovernment propaganda inspired by Yankee interventionists.
But while he may talk a good game of Evil Empire jabber, Maduro may be nearing the precipice of his own demise as the MUD’s six-month time limit inches closer.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, voters are legally allowed to hold referendums to recall elected officials, including the president.
Those referendums can only be held after the official’s term has reached its midway point, which in Maduro’s case, would be in April.
The number of votes required to recall Maduro would be about 200,000 votes fewer than the total number of ballots cast for the MUD in the December legislative elections, which means that, assuming the same number of voters participated in the referendum, the Venezuelan oligarch could end up being ousted from office.
Maduro, who has looked on with dread as his old political comrade Raul Castro has moved toward a less confrontational relationship with Washington and who is feeling the pinch of a 75 percent drop in international oil prices, plainly needs a new approach toward its relationship with the United States, the South American country’s leading trade partner.
Instead of trying to use Washington as a scapegoat for his own political and economic failures, Madero should take a cue from Havana and start courting the United States.
Madero’s recall of Sánchez Arveláiz is in reality inconsequential, since Washington and Caracas cut off ambassadorial-level diplomatic relations in 2010 and the charge d’affaires was little more than a seat warmer for the embassy’s chief post.
Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people are no longer listening to Maduro’s bombastic piss-and-vinegar hyperbole.
They are too busy trying to figure out where their next meal is coming from.
Venezuela is on the verge of an economic meltdown.
In the third quarter of 2015 alone, it shrank by a whopping 7.2 percent , and predictions for this year are even more dire.
Bottom line: Maduro may just be battling a political Little Bighorn.
Thérèse Margolis can be contacted at [email protected].