The com­ing col­lapse of Venezuela

Open civil war looms just over the hori­zon

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By David A. Keene

As U.S. pol­i­cy­mak­ers fret about Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine and North Korea, far too lit­tle at­ten­tion is be­ing paid to the pow­der keg to the south of us that may be about to blow. Once-pros­per­ous Venezuela has been com­ing apart for years, but the roundly con­demned Con­stituent As­sem­bly elec­tion en­gi­neered by pres­i­den­tial strong­man Ni­co­las Maduro lit the fuse that could ignite a civil war in his coun­try. With a Sun­day at­tack by uni­formed in­sur­gents on a mil­i­tary base, the in­ternecine bat­tle may have al­ready be­gun.

Mr. Maduro’s pre­de­ces­sor, Hugo Chavez, was a ded­i­cated so­cial­ist who hated the United States and laid the foun­da­tions on which Mr. Maduro has built, but he was a lot smarter than his suc­ces­sor. If Chavez was the Venezue­lan revo­lu­tion’s Lenin, Mr. Maduro is its Stalin. From the day he took of­fice, he’s tar­geted his op­po­nents for an­ni­hi­la­tion, built an in­ter­nal pri­vate se­cret po­lice force and moved headlong to em­u­late what the Cas­tro brothers did in and to Cuba.

He’s blamed ev­ery­thing that’s gone wrong on an evil al­liance of cap­i­tal­ist busi­ness­men and the im­pe­ri­al­ist United States while the on­ce­boom­ing Venezue­lan econ­omy has col­lapsed around him. His prob­lems were made worse by the drop in oil prices, but the com­mand econ­omy he built has driven busi­ness and in­vest­ment out of his now-im­pov­er­ished na­tion. In­fla­tion is pro­jected by the In­ter­na­tional Monetary Fund to reach 700 per­cent this year, and

neigh­bor­ing coun­tries are work­ing to process the tens of thou­sands of refugees flee­ing the coun­try.

The Con­stituent As­sem­bly elected in the fake ref­er­en­dum he en­gi­neered con­sists of loy­al­ists who, like their lead­ers, have vowed to trash the na­tion’s con­sti­tu­tional safe­guards and give Mr. Maduro the power to crush his op­po­nents. It was con­demned by dozens of na­tions, in­clud­ing the United States and vir­tu­ally every hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tion one can name. And it was boy­cotted by his op­po­nents and, ac­cord­ing to polls taken in the weeks lead­ing up to it, by some­thing like 80 per­cent of the Venezue­lan pub­lic.

Un­de­terred, Mr. Maduro de­clared the re­sults a “demo­cratic” en­dorse­ment of his schemes and within hours, two of his ma­jor po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents were picked up and jailed. More ar­rests have fol­lowed and the pace can be ex­pected to pick up once the as­sem­bly, which was seated last Fri­day, be­gins to for­mally elim­i­nate op­po­si­tion pro­tec­tion as the Maduro regime com­pletes the task of dis­man­tling a democ­racy and build­ing a to­tal­i­tar­ian state. The U.S. has im­posed “sanc­tions” on Mr. Maduro per­son­ally and is threat­en­ing to sanc­tion every mem­ber of his as­sem­bly. Sanc­tions didn’t stop Fidel in the ’60s and have failed to dis­suade var­i­ous despots on which we have im­posed them in re­cent years. They aren’t likely to have much im­pact on the Maduro regime.

Be­fore the elec­tion, Pres­i­dent Trump threat­ened “strong and swift” eco­nomic ac­tion if Mr. Maduro went for­ward. But since then, there has been lit­tle fol­low-through, and the Mi­ami Her­ald has re­ported that State Depart­ment of­fi­cials are mud­dling the mes­sage by ex­press­ing “a will­ing­ness to di­a­logue.”

At least the pres­i­dent has an ad­viser who fol­lows and knows just what’s go­ing on in Venezuela. His new chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, has served as head of the South­ern Com­mand, knows many of the re­gion’s po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tary lead­ers, and knows ex­actly what Mr. Maduro is and how he has pro­ceeded to de­stroy his coun­try with help from his bud­dies in Ha­vana.

The ram­pant in­fla­tion that has plagued Venezuela since Mr. Maduro or­dered the print­ing presses to crank out more and more Bo­li­vars has made it im­pos­si­ble to im­port much of any­thing from abroad. Medicine isn’t avail­able ex­cept on the black mar­ket at prices vir­tu­ally no one can af­ford. City dwellers, who a few years ago, were din­ing at first-rate restau­rants can now be found dig­ging through the garbage be­hind those very restau­rants look­ing for dis­carded food to stave off star­va­tion. No one is safe on the streets of Venezue­lan ci­ties, which are now among the most dan­ger­ous on earth.

In re­cent years, the Maduro regime has dis­armed the Venezue­lan cit­i­zenry, im­pos­ing some of the strictest gun con­trol laws any­where. Ear­lier this year, it turned over the very guns con­fis­cated to Maduro loy­al­ist sup­port­ers, who are even now us­ing them to kill or in­tim­i­date Venezue­lans who have pub­licly demon­strated their op­po­si­tion.

It’s hard to imag­ine the econ­omy col­laps­ing even fur­ther, but in Oc­to­ber the regime is go­ing to have to de­cide what to do about some $3.4 bil­lion in in­ter­na­tional loan re­pay­ments due to cred­i­tors who are go­ing to want to be paid in dol­lars, not worth­less Bo­li­vars. The loans were made to the staterun oil com­pany and if Mr. Maduro de­faults, his coun­try will end up even more iso­lated than it is to­day.

As things worsen, open civil war looms just over the hori­zon — a civil war that could lead not just to tens of thou­sands of dead, but a wave of refugees the likes of which we have not seen in this hemi­sphere.


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