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Our maxim: “understanding before action”
Our purpose is to encourage the knowledge and the debate of issues connected with art and military science. Selection of articles attempts to reflect different opinions. Beyond any ideological ascription. In order to impulse critical thought amongst our readers.

jueves, 6 de noviembre de 2014

Venezuela a borde del desastre.

In Venezuela, Maduro Teetering on the Edge of Disaster.

By Column
People wait in line to enter a small market to try to buy items like disposable diapers, laundry detergent and razors in downtown Caracas, Venezuela, Oct. 23, 2014 (AP photo by Ariana Cubillos).

High-stakes political tensions are nothing new to the socialist government of Venezuela. The late President Hugo Chavez seemed to become invigorated by class struggle and the passionate protests it engendered. The strife energized his supporters and fortified the faithful. His heir, Nicolas Maduro, has also faced fierce opposition protests and has responded forcefully, imprisoning the most vociferous of opposition challengers. But the substance, character and context of complaints have changed. The challenge is growing exponentially riskier for the Venezuelan president.

The street protests from regime opponents have quieted down, replaced with something much more ominous for Maduro. Just as Venezuela’s already disastrous economic condition is about to get much worse because of a slide in oil prices, the wave of discontent among Chavistas is growing stronger. More and more leftists are openly questioning whether Maduro is the right man to protect the legacy of Chavez, the leader they have nearly turned into a deity.

The widening divisions within the ruling United Venezuelan Socialist Party (PSUV) have intensified enormously in recent weeks, boiling over in full public view.

Street clashes have left armed Chavista activists dead, forcing personnel changes at the top and prompting party militants to openly threaten to withdraw their support from the president if he does not do their bidding.

For the majority of the Venezuelan population this is a sideshow. Venezuelans today have their hands full with much more pressing problems. The scarcity of essential consumer items has become so severe that authorities have decided to stop tracking and providing data on shortages. It’s the same technique they used when the crime rate spiraled out of control. Inflation is also continuing to squeeze Venezuelan families, approaching 60 percent a year, and there is every reason to expect the country’s economic problems are going to become even worse in the very near future. The president’s approval rating, not surprisingly, is crumbling.

To fend off popular anger, Maduro just ordered a 15 percent hike in the minimum wage, just a week after he gave the military a 45 percent raise. Maintaining the support of the military is essential to preventing a coup.

The beleaguered president is caught between competing factions of his socialist base, ensuring that any move he makes angers at least one group, if not all, and forcing him to look over his shoulder at every turn.

On Oct. 24, he fired his interior minister, Miguel Rodriguez Torres. Rodriguez Torres is a loyal backer of Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly and the man who represents the most serious threat to Maduro’s presidency from within the socialist camp.

The removal of Rodriguez Torres, a harsh blow to Cabello’s power, came after paramilitary Chavista groups blamed him for the killing of several of their members during street demonstrations in early October.

But the so-called “Colectivos,” the armed battalions of Chavistas, were not satisfied with the personnel change at the top. Instead, they issued an ultimatum. In a Twitter message, the group known as Colectivo 5 de Marzo demanded that Maduro fire Cabello. Otherwise, they warned, Maduro would lose their support.

In fact, Maduro would be delighted to be rid of Cabello, his most prominent rival. But tackling him directly would invite all-out political war, a war he would most likely lose.

Cabello is biding his time, watching Maduro deal with the waves of challenges from inside the socialist camp.

The public challenges to the president started back in June, when a former planning minister under Chavez, Jorge Giordani, wrote an open letter criticizing Maduro’s economic policies. Over the course of several weeks, a number of well-respected Chavistas joined in the criticism. They were suspended from the PSUV and accused of betraying the revolution.

Now more waves are clearly visible on the horizon. An alliance called the Socialist Tide (MS) has announced it intends to rescue Chavez’s legacy and unmask government corruption. It is one of a number of organizations popping up across the socialist landscape, all eyeing Maduro and his floundering administration. The hardline MS activists, described as a Trotskyist group, says it supports Maduro, but it is watching over the president and demanding that he make key changes.

Another group, the Hugo Chavez Bolivarian Front, says it will work to restore its hero’s legacy, but will support the current president who, after all, was personally anointed by Chavez.

During the most recent upsurge in tensions, Cabello has tried to calm the waters, arguing that the intraparty turmoil is nothing unusual and urging leftist activists to work out their differences. “We are human beings,” he said, “and problems among human beings are resolved by shaking hands and looking each other eye to eye, not by stabbing, hiding and gossiping.”

The pressure, nonetheless, will continue to mount, if nothing else because the economy is visibly and very embarrassingly crumbling. The Economist has called Venezuela “probably the world’s worst-managed economy.”

The country relies on oil revenue for 97 percent of its foreign earnings. The budget deficit reached an eye-popping 17.2 percent of GDP last year, and that was when oil prices stood near record highs. Now prices have lost about one-quarter of their value. Every $1 drop in prices costs Venezuela $700 million in revenue.

Making matters worse, production has fallen due to mismanagement and under-investment. The state oil company is used as a cash cow to fund government programs, leaving little for exploration and retooling. Production has fallen by 13 percent from 1999, when Chavez took office.

Facing a shortage of cash, the government has resorted to printing money, which has fueled inflation. Government intervention and price controls have destroyed production incentives, adding to shortages. Every day Venezuelans discover more products are impossible to find. Basic medicines, diapers and food are in short supply.

The anti-PSUV opposition, meanwhile, is looking for support overseas and watching the Socialists turn on each other. Divisions among Socialists create an opening, but there is no guarantee that if Maduro falls his replacement will not be another Chavista.

Frida Ghitis is an independent commentator on world affairs and a World Politics Review contributing editor. Her weekly WPR column, World Citizen, appears every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis.

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