Venezuela's Maduro Somehow Becoming a Bigger Tyrant than Hugo Chavez
Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver turned senior official appointed to succeed the late Chavez, has called for expansive governing powers to combat the countries impending economic breakdown, finally collecting enough votes to make the legislature give him the power to unilaterally make law.
The news of the law's passing came this week amid a financial crisis that has Venezuelans reporting shortages of everything from basic foods to toilet paper. With inflation at 54% (among the globe's highest) and value of the national currency plummeting, Maduro insisted that having the right to pass laws as an executive leader was necessary to sustain the nation.
Other economic incentives Maduro has promoted to combat the shortages he blames on "bourgeois parasites" include promoting the widespread looting of small businesses and use of troops to do the same. He has also forcibly lowered the prices of many electronics to gain the support of Venezuela's poorest, fined corporations for "usury," and demanded Twitter shut down accounts working in opposition to the national government.
His rule by decree is a reality thanks to a slim margin of votes, and the Washington Post notes the legislative victory for Maduro comes after one prominent opposition lawmaker was stripped of her seat.
Alarming as the economic situation in Venezuela—a member of OPEC—may be to the naked eye, the nation's democratic infrastructure is further in freefall than any other pillar of its civil society. After more than a decade suffering under the yolk of Hugo Chavez's iron fist, Venezuela has fallen into the hands of equally ruthless leaders recovering from two massive PR blows—flagrantly losing and stealing the election and having their leader consistently ridiculed by a loud exile community as a puppet of Castro's Cuba.
While Maduro has followed Chavez's manner of ruling almost to the letter—Chavez had the legislature grant him decree powers, too—he notably lacks his predecessor's ability to woo a camera. Where Chavez's absurd rhetoric about George W. Bush being "the Devil" had its intended effects, often charming the target audience on the left and repulsing those who saw him rightfully as a tyrant, Maduro routinely falters.
When Nicolás Maduro has made the world laugh—when he accused Miami of plotting his assassination; when he claimed Hugo Chavez visited him as a reincarnated "little bird" and slept in his tomb; when he said in a speech that Jesus Christ multiplied the number of "penises" rather than "fish"—the world has laughed at him, not with him.
That is not to say that the dire situation in Venezuela is a laughing matter, or that Maduro's viciousness is such, either. It is to say that Maduro's lack of command of the bully pulpit (and rumblings of a potential coup by his cabinet) makes him a more desperate leader than Chavez was, one scrambling to assemble support where there is increasingly little, where the only thing trickling down the class structure is the hunger of Venezuela's children and the people's disgust with his inability to govern.
A nation rich in oil that cannot afford toilet paper because the federal government is too busy funding a "happiness ministry" is increasingly likely to revolt, but also increasingly ill-equipped to do so. Maduro knows this; that's why he spends so much time dehumanizing the middle and upper classes to gain the support of the few people better off under Chavez than before—and exploits it routinely. But Maduro also faces a more defiant media, plus half a nation that voted against him and knows they did not choose him. And any world leader cornered that way, suddenly granted what amounts to the abolition of the legislative branch of government, will stop at nothing to cement his power.