The recent announcement that Venezuela’s inflation rate is now the highest in all of Latin America is just the latest in a series of setbacks for a nation that earlier this year was roiled by massive protests, The Pew Center’s Juan Carlos Donoso writes:
In line with the mood on the streets, a new Pew Research survey finds that more than three of every four Venezuelans (77%) think the country is headed in the wrong direction. Yet despite mounting public frustration, the late Hugo Chávez’s successor as president, Nicolás Maduro, continues to enjoy as much public support as the political opposition.
Venezuelans are clearly worried about the economic situation in their country: a 71%-majority in the poll describes the economy as bad. Meanwhile, more than eight-in-ten say rising prices (89%) and a lack of jobs (83%) are very big problems. Crime (86% very big problem) is the only other problem seen in such a dire light.
The public clearly has doubts that President Maduro is the right man to get Venezuela back on course. A majority (57%) in the poll says the president has a bad influence on the country’s direction, compared with 40% who say he has a good influence. By a 55% to 44% margin, Venezuelans also say they are dissatisfied with the overall political system.
Maduro has accused doctors who alerted the public to the recent deaths of nine people from an unidentified but possibly infectious disease of “psychological terrorism,” the Wall Street Journal reports:
Dr. Douglas Natera, president of Venezuela’s medical federation, which represents doctors, said the opaque nature of Mr. Maduro’s government and its criticism of the medical establishment is generating anxiety in Maracay, where many people have gone to neighborhood clinics complaining of symptoms found in people infected with Chikungunya.
“Had they given out information quickly, they wouldn’t have caused people to be alarmed in Maracay, and then later in the whole country,” said Mr. Natera, who was also criticized by Mr. Maduro. “The people know what’s happening in the communities, where they have fevers and pain.”….
Maduro also accused an eminent Harvard professor of being a “bandit” and “financial hit man,” Simeon Tegel writes for Salon.com:
That’s how Venezuela’s beleaguered and increasingly thin-skinned president, reacted last week to an opinion piece co-authored by economist Ricardo Hausmann about whether the nation should default on its debts.The article reportedly even contributed to a drop in Venezuela’s bond prices.
Maduro, political heir to Hugo Chavez, instructed Venezuela’s attorney general to take unspecified “actions” against Hausmann, who heads Harvard’s Center for International Development and is a former Venezuelan planning minister.
Hausmann, you might think, has good reason to worry about the Venezuelan economy. Inflation is around 60 percent. The official fixed bolivar-to-dollar exchange rate is less than a tenth of the black market rate. And the country is plagued by shortages of a lengthy laundry list of basic necessities, from bread to cancer drugs.
There could be major drama on the United Nations Security Council next year if, as widely expected, Venezuela gets a seat adjacent to that of its nemesis, the United States, to represent Latin American and Caribbean nations, the New York Times reports:
Venezuela’s socialist government is chummy with Iran and Russia and would likely vote against, and rail about, American interests at every turn. This promises to be particularly contentious during a year in which the security council is likely to tackle major issues, including Russia’s expansionist spree and Washington’s military campaign against Sunni extremist militants in Iraq and Syria.
Crackdown on opposition
The Venezuelan government early this year responded to a wave of street protests by jailing opposition leaders, deploying the army against unarmed protesters and tightening control of the media, the Times notes:
The human rights abuses and Venezuela’s ailing economy are an outgrowth of the political crisis that has gripped the country in the past decade. The socialist policies Mr. Chávez adopted after taking office in 1999 markedly reduced poverty and expanded opportunities in a country with a long history of entrenched inequality. But his despotic governing style led the country down a dark path. And he drove out capital and talent by nationalizing key industries and asserting greater government control of the oil sector, the country’s economic engine. Insecurity and inflation soared during his years in power.
Mr. Maduro, lacking Mr. Chávez’s charisma and shrewd political instincts, has proved to be an even more dangerous and divisive leader. Venezuelans now suffer from shortages of basic commodities, including milk. Inflation surpassed 60 percent this summer. Leading economists have suggested that Venezuela, which has the world’s largest oil reserves, could default on its foreign debt this fall. Unable to reverse the decline, Mr. Maduro rails about foreign conspiracies and has throttled a once-free press. Several news organizations that used to be critical of the government have been forced by mysterious new owners to take pro-government stances.