Demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of people fill the streets of Venezuelan cities. One watches the events like a traveler eyeing a suspicious-looking bag on a railway platform – waiting for it to blow up.
The charismatic President Hugo Chavez died in 2013, succeeded by the notably inadequate Nicolas Maduro. Since then, Venezuela – a theoretically oil-rich country of 32 million – has been horribly plagued by a range of problems. These include corruption, a bloated civil service and military, and impossibly high rates of inflation. As shortages of essential staple products, including food, continue, the crime rate has skyrocketed.
The misery of the Venezuelan people, confronted with the difference between the country’s wealth and the sharp contrast to the standard of living of its elite, has brought its political situation to a crisis point. Some, in white shirts, insist on Maduro’s resignation. Others, in red shirts, support him as the heir of the party of the late Chavez.
The problems plaguing Venezuelans started during the rule of Chavez, president from 1998 until his 2013 death. His rule was interrupted briefly in 2002 by a failed coup d'etat, which the administration of President George W. Bush appeared to support, leaving a bad legacy in U.S.-Venezuelan relations.
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America’s relations with Venezuela are based fundamentally in trade. The United States is Venezuela’s biggest client and supplier, amounting to about $44 billion a year.
Oil is both Venezuela’s crutch and a source of vulnerability. It amounts to a third of its gross domestic product, 86 percent of its exports and half of its government’s revenues.
When the world price of oil soars, Venezuela does well; when it falls, Venezuela suffers.
Demonstrators want Maduro to step down now, long before his six-year term ends in 2019. The country’s National Electoral Council claims that constitutionally, it cannot authorize even a referendum before the end of this year.
If the place is not to explode into widespread violence and destruction, he probably needs to go now.
Venezuela’s friends do not want its people to suffer more than they do already. The world already has enough failed states.