The socialist Nicolas Maduro government of Venezuela is in the process of real-time self-destruction, and the resulting (and inevitable) power void is going to be brutal, ugly, and probably extremely deadly in Caracas.
The growing economic crisis — fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generatehydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production — has turned into an intensely political one for President Nicolás Maduro. This month, he declared a state of emergency, his second this year, and ordered military exercises, citing foreign threats.
But the president looks increasingly encircled.
American officials say the multiplying crises have led Mr. Maduro to fall out of favor with members of his own socialist party, who they believe may turn on him, leading to chaos in the streets.
Old allies like Brazil, whose leftist president, Dilma Rousseff, was removed this month pending an impeachment trial, are now openly criticizing Venezuela. José Mujica, the leftist former president of Uruguay last week called Mr. Maduro “crazy like a goat.”
The regional tensions came to a head last week when Mr. Maduro went on television to chide the Organization of American States, which has criticized Venezuela’s handling of the economic and political crises. Mr. Maduro took aim at Luis Almagro, its secretary general, calling him a “longtime traitor” and implying he was a spy.
Mr. Almagro responded with an open letter blasting the president, calling on him to allow the recall referendum his opponents are pushing this year to remove Mr. Maduro from office.
“You betray your people and your supposed ideology with your diatribes without substance,” Mr. Almagro wrote. “To deny the people that vote, to deny them the possibility of deciding, would make you just another petty dictator, like so many this hemisphere has had.”
As the sparring continues, Mariángel González, a 32-year-old mother of two, is most worried about the retreat of the government from daily life.
Venezuela’s public schools are now closed on Fridays, another effort to save electricity. So Ms. González was waiting in line with her elder child at an A.T.M., while her husband watched over the other one at home.
“Right now, my older girl should be at elementary school and the little one in kindergarten,” she said. “My husband and I have been inventing new routines.”
Ms. González, a freelance lawyer, lived a middle-class life until recently. But she says the government shutdown has left her without work and her family without food.
“The older girl, who understands what’s going on says, ‘What is there, Mom: bread, arepas or nothing?’” She said that on a recent night, the family ate a dinner of pasta and ketchup.
When your government has failed so utterly that people have no food to buy, no fuel or electricity to cook it with, and no water to drink, the riots will come quickly. When they do come, and the crackdown follows, and the government comes apart, what happens then?
We've seen this play out in MENA countries over the Obama years: Morocco, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Egypt, Syria. The final results have been different, but each time involved a lethal government crackdown that killed thousands of its own citizens and a government collapse.
It certainly won't be the first time it's happened in the Americas considering a slightly more polite version of a coup is going on in Brazil now, with Dilma Rouseff gone and not coming back. But it's always a tragedy when it happens.
I'm guessing we'll meet the new boss in Caracas fairly soon.