US turns screws on Venezuela
CARACAS — He thunders about conspiracies and assassination plots. He says that he sleeps with both eyes open. Few Venezuelans even know where he lives.
But no matter the dangers, President Nicolás Maduro says that no one will scare him, fool him or divert him from carrying out the mission that the “eternal Commander Chávez” has given him “until the end of the end of the roads, now and forever”.
Mr Maduro came into office seeking to imitate his charismatic predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, in nearly every way: the way he talked, the way he dressed and in his fulminations against American imperialism.
But now, two years after the death of Mr Chávez, with his country sinking deeper into an economic crisis, what was once Mr Maduro’s greatest advantage — his absolute loyalty to the former leader — may have become his greatest handicap.
“The government inaction, the inertia, comes from a belief that you find in Nicolás Maduro and his government about defending Chávez’s legacy, as if nothing that Chávez left can be touched, nothing can be changed or corrected because that would be considered a betrayal,” said Victor Álvarez, a leftist economist and former government minister under Mr Chávez.
Well before Mr Chávez’s death on 5 March 2013, it became clear that many of his policies needed to be revised or even discarded to set the nation’s economy on the right track, Mr Álvarez said.
But wary of breaking from his mentor’s course, Mr Maduro, who repeats Mr Chávez’s name like a mantra and calls himself the son of Chávez, has doubled down on the same policies, which economists say exile with threats to have them arrested. But opposition leaders say that being politically active is much riskier today.
“Maduro’s problem is that he does not project leadership, so he has to make up for it by trying to look strong,” said Stalin González, an opposition legislator. “People laugh at him; they don’t take him seriously. It’s like a bully at school.
“They laugh at him, and he resorts to violence so that they will respect him.”
The United States declared Venezuela a national security threat on Monday and ordered sanctions against seven officials from the oilrich country in the worst bilateral diplomatic dispute since socialist President Nicolas Maduro took office in 2013.
US President Barack Obama signed and issued the executive order, which senior administration officials said did not target Venezuela’s energy sector or broader economy.
But the move stokes tensions between Washington and Caracas just as US relations with Cuba, a longtime US foe in Latin America and key ally to Venezuela, are set to be normalized.
Mr Maduro denounced the sanctions as an attempt to topple his government. At the end of a thundering two-hour speech, Mr Maduro said he would seek decree powers to counter the “imperialist” threat, and appointed one of the sanctioned officials as the new interior minister.
Declaring any country a threat to national security is the first step in starting a US sanctions program. The same process has been followed with countries such as Iran and Syria, US officials said.
— NY Times- Reuters
President nicolás Maduro of Venezuela (centre) at a military parade in February marking the 23rd anniversary of a failed coup.