Venezuela and the eclipse of American leadership

Tear gas

A man suffering from the effects of tear gas is evacuated by fellow demonstrators during clashes between opposition members and Bolivarian National Guard soldiers in Caracas, Venezuela. (Fernando Llano/Associated Press)

Venezuela’s steady descent into chaos has repeatedly prompted pundits like me to predict that the authoritarian populist regime founded by Hugo Chávez was doomed to collapse, or be ousted. That it hasn’t happened yet says a lot about how this Latin American meltdown is different and worse than any other in the past century. And it may be even more telling about the change in global role of the United States.

Last week, Caracas was again looking like a capital on the verge of revolution. Clouds of tear gas and volleys of rubber bullets filled normally jammed expressways as tens of thousands took to the streets to challenge the government now led by Nicolás Maduro. The causes for popular anger were legion: not just Maduro’s blatant rupture of democratic norms, but shortages so severe that three-quarters of Venezuelans say they have lost weight because of a lack of food; not just brutal repression, but the world’s worst rates of inflation and homicide.

Once again observers were predicting that Maduro’s days in power were numbered — that he would be forced to agree to the opposition’s demand for elections, or a group of patriotic generals would remove him in the name of restoring order. Perhaps this time they will finally be right. But Venezuela has proved remarkably resistant to the fail-safe mechanisms that usually break the fall of a middle-income country. Instead, it is looking more and more like the Zimbabwe of the Western hemisphere — a depraved dictatorship where no amount of misery seems sufficient to bring about a breaking point.

Why would that be? In large part, this is the story of a uniquely corrupt and isolated regime. Senior government and military officials are up to their necks in international drug trafficking and the looting of oil revenue; a few, including the vice president, have already been designated as “narcotics kingpins” by the U.S. treasury. Giving up power would likely mean going to prison. Meanwhile, the intelligence and security services are seeded with overseers from Cuba, which has managed to convert an OPEC nation with three times its population into a client state. In the logic of the Castro regime, international pariah status is always preferable to domestic political concessions.

Still, Venezuela also tells a story of the eclipse of American leadership. For at least the past 100 years, the United States’ conception of its international mission included a determination not to allow another state in the Western hemisphere to fail.


Source/More: The Washington Post

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