Venezuela heads toward cataclysm
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.