Saturday, April 15, 2017

Hasta Quando, Comandante?

from the NY Times
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela has sought in recent days to cow crowds of protesters with barrages of rubber bullets and tear gas canisters tossed by ground forces and from helicopters. The government has deployed violence-prone plainclothes militias to discourage more demonstrators from pouring onto the streets. It has ratcheted up pressure on opponents by disqualifying a prominent leader from running for office and by detaining other critics. It has moved to censor the press by blocking access to digital news outlets, by barring foreign journalists from entering the country and by assaulting Venezuelan reporters.

Even as the latest wave of street protests has turned fatal, with at least five deaths reported in recent days, Venezuelans show no sign of letting up the pressure on Mr. Maduro’s authoritarian government. In a striking sign of dissent, demonstrators on Tuesday pelted Mr. Maduro with eggs and stones while he rode in a jeep in a military parade in the eastern state of Bolívar, where his party has traditionally enjoyed strong support. A coalition of opposition factions is calling for a huge march next Wednesday.

Big protests are among the few means the opposition has to stand up for democratic principles and decry the government’s epic economic mismanagement and cronyism. Mr. Maduro has co-opted the judiciary and rendered the legislature — which is controlled by a coalition of opposition parties — largely ineffective by disregarding its authority.

This latest unrest is likely to deepen the misery of Venezuelans, who are suffering from severe food shortages, without leading to a positive breakthrough. Mr. Maduro’s government, after all, has had considerable success in weathering past periods of agitation.

This one could be different, however, if Venezuela’s fractious opposition groups agree on a list of concrete objectives and lay out a clear strategy to start addressing the country’s problems with help from the international community. Attempts to build such a consensus on issues like the release of political prisoners, a time frame for elections that have been indefinitely postponed and the distribution of humanitarian aid have failed in the past. But getting concessions from Mr. Maduro may be feasible now that a growing number of regional governments are taking a harder line against the Venezuelan government.

Over the past couple of days, Mr. Maduro and his allies were characteristically tone deaf about the strife. They marked the fourth anniversary of his election by publishing new slogans on social media. One celebrated “four years of victory and loyalty.” Another one called the president “indestructible.” That is a strikingly callous adjective for a leader who has done so much harm.

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