Maduro set for vic­tory as Venezuela crum­bles

The West Australian - - WORLD - An­thony Faiola and Rachelle Kry­gier Cara­cas

Venezuela’s au­to­cratic pres­i­dent Nicolas Maduro is ex­pected to win an­other term in elec­tions on Sun­day.

But he soon could face a far big­ger test — main­tain­ing his grip on a coun­try that is fast be­com­ing a failed State.

Since Mr Maduro took over from Hugo Chavez — his men­tor, who died in 2013 — Venezuela’s cri­sis has steadily in­ten­si­fied as a re­sult of lower oil prices, cor­rup­tion and a so­cial­ist sys­tem plagued with mis­man­age­ment.

But as Mr Maduro has sought to fur­ther con­sol­i­date power in the past 12 months, the econ­omy, pub­lic ser­vices, se­cu­rity and health care have all but col­lapsed.

Armed gangs and Colom­bian guerilla groups are oper­at­ing unchecked on Venezuela’s borders.

Pro-gov­ern­ment mili­tias are ter­ror­is­ing ur­ban ar­eas, while po­lice stand ac­cused of ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings. Four of the 10 most dan­ger­ous cities in the world are now in Venezuela, ac­cord­ing to a 2017 study by the Igarap In­sti­tute, a Brazil­ian think tank that stud­ies vi­o­lence.

Hun­dreds if not thou­sands of mem­bers of the armed forces are de­sert­ing, in part be­cause of mea­gre ra­tions, ac­cord­ing to mil­i­tary an­a­lysts.

Power and wa­ter grids and the trans­porta­tion sys­tems are break­ing down. In just the first three months of the year, Venezuela had 7778 black­outs.

Sad­dled with a soar­ing in­fla­tion rate that has put food out of reach, Venezue­lans, weak­ened and thin, are get­ting sick. Doc­tors say cases of dis­eases once thought largely erad­i­cated — malaria, diph­the­ria, measles and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis — are not only resur­fac­ing but surg­ing.

In a na­tion that lives off oil, pro­duc­tion is col­laps­ing as plants break down and the bank­rupt Gov­ern­ment can­not fix equip­ment. Venezuela’s un­paid cred­i­tors are be­gin­ning to tighten the fi­nan­cial noose, mov­ing to at­tach the coun­try’s off­shore as­sets.

At the State oil gi­ant, 25,000 work­ers, more than a quar­ter of its staff, quit last year in a mass ex­o­dus. Flee­ing work­ers are join­ing a flood of hu­man­ity, at least 5000 peo­ple a day, ex­it­ing the coun­try. The ex­o­dus has left schools with­out teach­ers, hos­pi­tals with­out doc­tors and nurses, and util­i­ties with­out elec­tri­cians and en­gi­neers.

“A failed State is one that can­not meet the most ba­sic func­tions of gov­ern­ment,” economist Jean Paul Lei­denz said.

“Venezuela now cer­tainly has that char­ac­ter­is­tic."

Dur­ing a campaign stop in the east­ern Guayana City this week, Mr Maduro con­ceded his gov­ern­ment “had made mis­takes”. But he blamed the coun­try’s cri­sis mostly on out­side forces and do­mes­tic enemies and pro­claimed this na­tion’s so­cial­ist revo­lu­tion the foun­da­tion that would see Venezuela through to bet­ter days.

“Thanks to the so­cial sys­tem cre­ated by the revo­lu­tion, the peo­ple are pro­tected and pre­pared,” he said. “We have a lot more to do, and that’s why we need vic­tory.”

Pictures: AP

Venezue­lans line up for sub­sidised food such as beans, rice, tuna and pow­dered milk pro­vided by a gov­ern­ment pro­gram.

A woman car­ries a box of food and a Maduro poster in Cara­cas.

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