Failing the democracy test: Venezuela



Today is the deadline for the country to convince Mercosur, a South American trade group, that it has met its legal and human-rights standards; Venezuela is due to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency, The Economist writes:

That’ll be tricky. Hardly a week goes by without the populist regime demonstrating its contempt for democratic norms. This week the election commission decreed that the opposition must wait until late October to collect signatures in support of a referendum to recall President Nicolás Maduro. Venezuelans, hungry and fed up, would probably oust him. But this delay might push the vote past January 10th; if Mr Maduro loses a referendum after that date, his vice-president will take over, with no election.

Venezuela is producing a worse version of Charles Tilly’s famous argument about the consolidation of states in pre-democratic Europe, notes Javier Corrales, Professor of Political Science at Amherst College. Tilly argued that monarchical government emerged in Europe as a result of a racket: the monarch would fabricate threats against the population and then charge subjects (with taxes) for protection, he writes:

The Venezuelan government is more perverse. It creates (rather than merely fabricates) a threat against the population: the food crisis. It then blames the crisis on others — the private sector, citizens who overconsume, smugglers — and proceeds to charge citizens an extra premium: runaway inflation, scarcity, long lines and informal markets. But instead of offering protection, the state redoubles threats by expanding uncertainty, state control, military surveillance and government-sanctioned criminal gangs.

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