Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is an obstinate man who doesn’t seem to see the writings on the wall.
After his opponents gathered together 80 boxes of 1.85 million signatures earlier this month demanding a referendum to officially recall the leftist leader from his post (they only needed 200,000 signatures to start the process), he sent his lackey Vice President Aristóbulo Istúriz to inform the burgeoning opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) party that it had “acted too late, not presented the signatures properly and committed fraud.”
In other words, Maduro essentially threw the petition out the window, overriding even his own National Electoral Council, which no doubt would have nullified the process anyway since that body is heavily stacked with loyalists to his United Socialist Party (see “Now Comes the Hard Part,” which ran in this space on April 29).
Adding fuel to the already-smoldering fire of public discontent with his mandate, late Friday night, Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency, granting himself additional powers even above those he had already usurped from the Venezuelan constitution.
Maduro justified his action with his old standby rhetoric of attributing his country’s crippling economic and social woes on the evil Satan of the North, insisting that the new decree will help him “to denounce, neutralize and overcome external and foreign aggressors,” who he maintains are out to overthrow Venezuela. (He already claimed that the ouster of his bosom buddy Dilma Rousseff in Brazil was the result of underhanded political engineering by Washington.)
That Venezuela is in a state of emergency is not in doubt: The country’s hyperinflation, at 181 percent, is the highest in the world, and the economy, which shrank by 5.7 percent in 2015, is predicted to contract by and additional 8 percent this year.
Food, medicine and energy shortages are a daily reality, and the federal government is so strapped for cash that it has put all nonessential public servants on two-day workweek furloughs.
But external forces are not to blame.
Maduro and his ham-fisted ring of comrades have run the nation and its economy into the ground while turning a deaf ear to his constituents’ disgruntlement.
In December, the rightist centralist MUD won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, and Maduro is now facing enemies both in Congress and within his own palace ranks among Chavista followers who see him as having betrayed the Bolivarian revolutionist’s socialist legacy.
The Venezuelan people — 70 percent of whom now say that Maduro must leave office this year — have literally taken to the streets with massive demonstrations, leading to violent confrontations between protestors and police.
Maduro’s days are clearly numbered, and if he does not step down voluntarily, he may find himself removed from office by force.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at [email protected]