by Amb. (ret.) Patrick Duddy
Since mid February, Venezuela has been gripped by the most wide spread anti-government demonstrations the country has seen in more than a decade. Initially dominated by students, the demonstrations reflected deep frustration with the government’s failure to control alarmingly high inflation, widespread shortages of food items, medical supplies and newsprint, difficulty in securing hard currency and extraordinary levels of criminal violence. The government of Nicolas Maduro, who was sworn in as president after a disputed special election victory last April following the death of Hugo Chavez, characterized the demonstrators as “fascists” allied with right wing elements in exile and encouraged by the U.S. government. The government has responded to anti-government rallies with bully boy tactics. After more than four weeks of clashes, which have left more than two dozen dead and hundreds injured, the country appears to be subsiding into a sullen stand-off in which the proximate reasons for the prolonged crisis are all growing worse. Throughout this period, Maduro and others in his administration have regularly blamed the U.S. for the rising levels of discontent and reacted with outrage when U.S. officials have called on the government to refrain from violence, respect the political rights of Venezuelan citizens and to offer a real dialogue. For its part, the Venezuelan government has sought to bi-lateralize the crisis, even announcing formation of a special commission to engage the U.S. To date the Obama administration has refused to be drawn into what is clearly a disingenuous effort to shift the blame for Venezuela’s many internal problems from the government to the colossus of the north they generally refer to as the empire.