Since the passing of its charismatic leader, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela has stayed out of most U.S. headlines. That should change, as the policies of President Nicolas Maduro have started to raise some serious red flags.
In April, Maduro beat his opponent in Venezuela's presidential election, Henrique Capriles Radonski, with the lowest margin of support in years.
His predecessor, Chavez, had not only been the leader of Venezuela, but also a leader of the Latin American left. Chavez symbolized an ideology that believed in the rigor and potential of a region united to find alternatives to a U.S. dominated, unipolar world.
Maduro lacks that spark.
And he also faces the highest inflation rate in the world (at 49.4% in September). To combat this rate, the former bus driver turned statesman has asked Venezuela's legislators to grant him sweeping powers.
The decree would enable Maduro to either deepen state control of the economy or loosen foreign exchange controls to stimulate production, said Asdrubal Oliveros, director of Caracas-based research group Ecoanalitica.
The governing coalition of late President Hugo Chavez is one vote short of the three-fifths majority required by the constitution to pass the so-called enabling law used for special presidential powers. Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said after Maduro’s speech that he’s confident the law will be approved.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, who won 49 percent of the vote in April’s presidential election, warned the government against pushing through the bill without a three-fifths majority.
“The government would have to come in with tanks and rifles if they want to apply this enabling law,” he said in his weekly address broadcast on the Internet.
Maduro presented this as a decree against corruption.
Now, to put this is context, Chavez himself ruled through these powers for over four years of his presidency, but as Nomura put it in a note earlier this month, "Post election tensions continue to run high, casting doubt over Nicolas Maduro's ability to grasp firmly over the reins of power."
In other words, Maduro does not have the legitimacy that Chavez had. He does not, as Capriles Radonski suggested, have the authority to push these sweeping powers through without a three-fifths majority.
As such, Nomura has placed Venezuela on a list of 10 countries to watch for unrest, along with China, India, Argentina, South Africa, Russia, and more.
Maduro seems to know this. Argentine news service Clarin reported yesterday that Maduro advocated jail time for journalists who reported shortages of natural gas back in 2001. Shortages of electricity and toilet paper (among other items) have become common in the country.
These are the actions of an administration that cannot suffer even the slightest suggestion of descent.
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