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Mr Maduro's duty to Venezuelans

Friday, May 19, 2017

The sight of elderly Venezuelans joining street protests against the Government last week and being blocked by police in riot gear was a sad indication of the worsening conditions in that country.

According to wire service reports, many of the elderly protesters said they were angered by the fact that their once prosperous nation has devolved into a country with triple-digit inflation, shortages of basic necessities like food and medicine, and having one of the world's highest homicide rates.

Last week, the health ministry released a report that underlined Venezuela's deteriorating public health. According to the report, 756 women died while pregnant, or shortly after giving birth in 2016, a 66 per cent increase over the previous year. The deaths were caused by haemorrhages, high blood pressure and infections. The report also said that cases of infant mortality rose 30 per cent.

Amidst the anti-government protests that have been staged almost daily since March when President Nicolas Maduro's Government tried to nullify the Opposition-controlled congress, analysts predict that the economy will sink eight per cent this year, and the International Monetary Fund forecasts that inflation will soar to four digits next year.

In addition, the steep drop in world oil prices has left the Government in deep debt and most of the anti-poverty gains made under late President Hugo Chavez have been erased. The upshot is that Venezuelans are grappling with severe shortages of basic goods.

The violent unrest has resulted in at least 43 deaths so far — bloodshed that the political Opposition has blamed on State security forces and groups of armed, pro-Government civilians known as “colectivos”. However, President Maduro has insisted that far-right extremists are fomenting the violence with the help of criminal gangs.

Wire service reports tell us that, in recent weeks, Venezuelans who fled the country and are now living abroad have accosted visiting Government officials and their family members.

On Tuesday, President Maduro likened that harassment to “the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust under the Nazis”, Reuters news agency reported.

“We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued,” Mr Maduro is reported to have said during a Cabinet meeting. “We don't carry the yellow star of David... we carry red hearts that are filled with desire to fight for human dignity. And we are going to defeat them, these 21st century Nazis.”

We are not surprised that the comparison with the Holocaust was rejected by Venezuela's main Jewish group and described as “banal”.

However, we would not be surprised to learn that some of the violence, and shortages, in Venezuela are being sponsored by foreign sources. For Jamaica had a similar experience a few decades ago.

Nevertheless, the current situation in Venezuela is untenable, and President Maduro has a duty to restore calm to the country. Standing by his call for a rewriting of the constitution will not result in a peaceful resolution of the problem. In fact, it will only serve to confirm the view that he is lurching closer to dictatorship, because the constitutional rewrite process could delay, for more than a year, the presidential election due in 2018, which Mr Maduro reportedly fears he will lose.

Both sides need to agree to meet and leave their egos outside the door.