Sunday, October 30, 2016

Venezuela: Another failed Castro revolution.

Venezuela’s crisis comes to a head in the streets

An increasingly radicalised opposition calls march on Presidential Palace
Venezuela’s political crisis comes to a head this week in a mass march on the Presidential Palace that raises the risk of a crackdown.Thursday’s march is being mounted by an increasingly radicalised opposition, which is enraged by Venezuela’s deteriorating economy and the suspension of a constitutionally allowed referendum that sought to remove President Nicolás Maduro from office. The demonstration will be fiercely resisted by government supporters.
In 2002, public protests outside the Miraflores Presidential Palace escalated into a brief coup. 
“It is a game of chicken. Will there be a crash, or will one side swerve out of the way first?” said Felipe Pérez, a former minister who sides with the opposition. 
The march, which follows opposition-led mass protests and a general strike last week, is slated to take place even as Vatican-mediated talks between the government and the opposition Democratic Unity coalition (MUD) began on Sunday. 
The talks, attended also by former Spanish premier José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, seek to ease the political stand-off and staunch an economic and social crisis that has led to spiralling violence, triple digit inflation and shortages of basic goods. 
“Venezuela is being Somalia-ised,” said Mr Pérez, who served as planning minister under deceased former president Hugo Chávez. 
Despite the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela is mired in a prolonged recession that the IMF forecasts will see the economy shrink 10 per cent this year. It also continues to flirt with default on almost $100bn of international debt. 
The crisis, which has turned one of the region’s richest economies into one of the poorest, dominated discussions at the Ibero-American summit on Saturday. 
“I think there was a very clear consensus that there is not a solution to Venezuela’s problems … without constructive dialogue,” said António Guterres, the United Nations’ secretary-general elect. 
It is a game of chicken. Will there be a crash, or will one side swerve out of the way first?
Felipe Pérez, former Venezuelan minister
Critics say Mr Maduro maintains control by arresting opponents, muzzling the media, giving power to the military and sidelining the opposition-controlled Congress thanks to the government-controlled Supreme Court which has vetoed every law passed by parliament this year. Mr Maduro accuses the opposition of seeking a coup with US help. 
“Meaningful dialogue must … recognise the government’s responsibility in creating [the crisis],” Human Rights Watch warned in a letter to Pope Francis. “Otherwise it will only serve as yet another excuse for Venezuelan authorities … For any dialogue to succeed, it must tackle head-on the Venezuelan government’s authoritarian practices.” 
Polls show 90 per cent of Venezuelans believe the country is going in the wrong direction while three-quarters want to see Mr Maduro leave office this year. Yet analysts said there was little likelihood of meaningful discussion. 
“The government does not want to dialogue, but doing so buys it time,” said Michael Penfold, professor of political science at Caracas’s IESA business school. “The opposition meanwhile wants to negotiate but not dialogue in order to obtain the concessions it seeks.” These include freeing political prisoners and reinstating the referendum. 
Congress on Tuesday will debate a motion to censure Mr Maduro for political dereliction for suspending the referendum. But it is a largely symbolic vote as the constitution does not allow Congress to impeach the president, unlike in Brazil where former president Dilma Rousseff was impeached in August. 
Vice-president Aristóbulo Isturiz last week called the motion a “vulgar coup” and said government supporters would march on Congress to “strip the opposition of the luxury of violating the Constitution.” 
A key factor during this potentially bloody week will be if the army fires on crowds should the protests spiral out of control. Another will be the degree to which the opposition, typically dominated by the middle classes, is joined by poorer Venezuelans from the government’s core support base. 
“In past marches, the poor and the better off usually have different expectations,” said Roberto Patiño of Caracas Coexists, a charity. “The richer hope ‘something’ will happen; the poor, which have more to lose, that ‘nothing’ does.” 
“Venezuela has reached a new juncture,” added Mr Penfold. “Uncertain, volatile, and risky … What is clear is that the country will not be the same as it was.”
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