Venezuela heads to­ward cat­a­clysm

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION -

This ap­peared in the Wash­ing­ton Post:

For a month, Venezuela has been rocked by mas­sive pop­u­lar demon­stra­tions against the regime of Ni­colás Maduro, which has led the coun­try into a dystopia of eco­nomic dys­func­tion and crim­i­nal­ity while bla­tantly vi­o­lat­ing demo­cratic and con­sti­tu­tional norms. The de­mands of the op­po­si­tion have been echoed by the ma­jor­ity of Venezuela’s neigh­bours in the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Amer­i­can States: re­lease po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers, hold demo­cratic elec­tions, and take steps to rem­edy dras­tic short­ages of food and medicine, in­clud­ing by ac­cept­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian aid.

The regime’s re­sponse has been bru­tally un­com­pro­mis­ing. It has pounded op­po­si­tion marchers with rub­ber bul­lets and en­veloped them in tear gas; 29 peo­ple have been re­ported killed in the demon­stra­tions. It has an­nounced its in­ten­tion to with­draw from the OAS, where it has faced de­mands to abide by a demo­cratic char­ter that re­quires free as­sem­bly and free elec­tions. On Mon­day, Maduro an­nounced his most rad­i­cal re­sponse yet: the call­ing of a con­stituent as­sem­bly to re­write the con­sti­tu­tion, a ma­noeu­vre clearly in­tended to avoid fu­ture elec­tions and for­mally con­vert Venezuela into an au­thor­i­tar­ian state.

One of Latin Amer­ica’s most im­por­tant coun­tries, a ma­jor oil pro­ducer with a pop­u­la­tion of 30 mil­lion, is headed to­ward a cat­a­clysm. It is not clear what can now stop Maduro, but a bill in­tro­duced Wed­nes­day in the U.S. Sen­ate by a broad bi­par­ti­san coali­tion of­fers a way for­ward, in­clud­ing $10 mil­lion to seed a U.S.-led hu­man­i­tar­ian aid ini­tia­tive, strength­ened sanc­tions on se­nior of­fi­cials, and the com­pi­la­tion of a pub­lic re­port on those of­fi­cials’ in­volve­ment in drug traf­fick­ing and cor­rup­tion. U.S. ef­forts to res­cue Venezuela have long been spo­radic and half-hearted; this is the mo­ment to step them up.

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