The Maduro Solution: Invent a Crisis to Conceal the Real One

EspañolLast week, three former Latin-American heads of state traveled to Venezuela and tried to visit jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López. In true authoritarian fashion, the police barred them from entering the Ramo Verde prison. The reaction from Nicolás Maduro to the visit was typical: he accused Sebastián Piñera (Chile), Andrés Pastrana (Colombia), and Felipe Calderón (Mexico) of involvement in drug trafficking and supporting a coup against his government.

Venezuelan leaders’ obsession with a potential overthrow stems from their own history of violent climbs to power. Nevertheless, Maduro missed the mark. As Pastrana explained in a radio interview, the former Colombian president with ties to drug cartels is actually the Chavista ally Ernesto Samper, current secretary of the embarrassing and dangerous Union of South American Nations (UNASUR).

However, consistency, transparency, and honesty are not characteristics of authoritarian regimes, and Venezuela’s 21st-century socialism is no exception. Beyond the obvious goal of deceiving the public at home and abroad, Maduro’s tantrum can be explained in three ways, beginning with the country’s economic disaster.

Protesters gather near the Ramo Verde prison in Venezuela where Leopoldo López has been held since February 2014.
Protesters gather near the Ramo Verde prison in Venezuela where Leopoldo López has been held since February 2014. (Voluntad Popular)

Since Maduro and his henchmen cannot — or will not — admit to their own mismanagement, their only option is to find a scapegoat. They have previously tried to blame the US government, or smugglers in Colombia, and will continue to point fingers when given the opportunity. This time it happened to be the visiting former presidents.

As I’ve written previously, the true root of the problem is the country’s socialist model and the government’s lack of ideas, as evidenced by Maduro’s poor attempt at a solution to Venezuela’s rampant shortage and inflation problems during his speech before Congress in January.

Secondly, the government’s economic problems have then led to political instability. Economic crisis, clumsy half-baked measures, and social unrest have brought the country to a standstill.

Those who buy into Maduro’s desperate and paranoid cries are misguided. The opposition is too weak and fragmented to orchestrate a successful coup, and the sad truth is most Venezuelans believe the government’s socialist policies are well intentioned and just poorly executed.

The Chavista regime will indeed fall, in the short or medium term, but as a result of its own internal struggles. Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly and alleged drug cartel kingpin, must surely be searching for a way to successfully transfer power at this very moment.

At some point, the regime will inevitably crumble under the weight of its own failure — its inability to attain even one of its goals. We need not look any further than Cuba for an example: a regime that is a shadow of its former self, clinging to power based on future promises that never come.

Lastly, in order for Maduro to overcome his own party’s internal power struggles, he must present himself as a strong leader who is capable of handling a mounting crisis and social unrest. But since he can’t — or won’t — undertake genuine economic reform, he must address the issue in some other way.

One of those ways it to crack down on the very population he is supposed to protect. Another is to fabricate an imaginary, yet effective, diplomatic crisis with neighboring countries.

After Maduro insulted former President Pastrana, Colombia’s foreign minister released a delayed and timid statement that, surprisingly, offended Venezuelan leaders. A fresh diplomatic clash is now underway. Soon President Juan Manuel Santos will realize that kind words and promises of change mean nothing to authoritarian regimes.

Translated by Daniel Duarte.

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