It may not be long before the long-suffering people of Venezuela bid a long-overdue "goodbye" to the corrupt regime of Nicolas Maduro. If and when this happens, the kleptocratic dictator will have no one to blame but himself.
Let’s be clear about this. The opposition to Maduro is not a result of covert machinations by an imperialist U.S., as some on the left would have you believe. This is a strictly spontaneous, homegrown revolt arising from the abject failure of Maduro’s socialist regime.
Hundreds of thousands of people are in the streets protesting the unbearable conditions prevailing in what was once a prosperous nation. Four of every five Venezuelans now live in poverty with over half the population in extreme poverty.
Grocery shelves are often empty. Hospitals lack medical supplies. Schools, unable to pay their teachers, have closed, and approximately 3 million of the country’s 8 million school-aged children have stopped attending classes.
And things are getting worse. The International Monetary Fund estimates inflation will hit 10 million percent this year.
Doubtless, many more protesters would be in the streets but for the fact that over three million Venezuelans have already fled the country.
Topping off these miserable conditions were last year’s elections. They kept Maduro in power by the simple expedient of being rigged. International observers roundly denounced the elections as illegitimate.
Small wonder, then, that over 50 responsible nations have declared the May 2018 election fraudulent, and just as many have now recognized Juan Guaido, the head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, as Venezuela’s new interim president.
Not only are the people and the international community against Maduro, so too is the Venezuelan constitution. It states that the head of the National Assembly shall assume the presidency if a vacancy exists. Since Maduro’s electoral “victory” is illegitimate and Guaido is the head of the assembly, that leaves Maduro odd man out.
For a socialist strongman, Maduro is looking very weak indeed. Here is why he may not stand much longer.
Maduro has very few friends. China, Russia, Cuba, Syria and Iran continue to recognize him, but they are too far away and can deliver little help. And that’s assuming they want to help.
When the regime of Zimbabwe dictator Robert Mugabe crashed and burned, China waved from the sidelines. There is a lesson there.
China has significant investments in Venezuela, just as it does in Zimbabwe. But as long as a change in government doesn’t threaten its equities, Beijing will treat it as barely more momentous than a change of socks.
Russia might be willing to be more muscular, but Caracas is a really long way from Moscow. Putin can’t pull off a Crimea-like operation in Latin America.
Havana, of course, is far closer. Cuban intelligence and military personnel have permeated the Venezuelan government. But that’s become a disadvantage. Cuba’s influence on Venezuela’s socialist leaders is now seen as part of the problem, and has earned the ire of millions of Venezuelans.
Iran and Syria? Forget about them. Both nations have more than enough troubles of their own.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has made all the right moves. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Guaido led the international community to follow suit, making Maduro’s life more miserable. This is no exercise in nation building or regime change. Providing external support to Venezuela’s legitimate constitutional leader is the right thing to do.
The Trump administration has worked hard to build solid partnerships in Latin America, and that effort bore fruit when many of those nations lined up behind Trump in support of Guaido. During the Obama years, the hemisphere was reluctant to stand up to Maduro. No more.
Nor has the Trump administration been shy about confronting the Maduro regime’s corruption. In less than two years, the U.S. has slapped sanctions on over 100 Venezuelan officials for human rights violations and various forms of corruption. It has sanctioned Venezuela’s former vice president as a drug kingpin and seized hundreds of millions of illicitly obtained dollars and assets hidden in the United States. Recently, the administration moved to keep Venezuela’s oil revenues out of Maduro’s greedy hands.
Talk about a pressure cooker. Maduro is feeling the heat from within and without his despoiled country. The big question is simply this: How much longer can he hold on?