What would the shade of El Libertador think today surveying his beloved Venezuela? He would certainly be shocked at the dubious honor his country has been granted for claiming the number one spot on the world Misery Index for 2015. He would also surely wonder how the land of the intellectual font of Latin American liberation came to find itself as the 161st least corrupt country (out of 175 countries) in the world. He might then start to put a few questions to Senior Maduro—and perhaps the ghost of Chavez past. Questions like, what gross economic mismanagement led to the recent modification of a trade deal with Uruguay forcing Venezuela to use oil to pay for desperately needed foodstuffs? Or, why Venezuela now has one of the highest inflation rates in the world? Or, why North Dakotan missionaries, devoted to assisting the Venezuelan people, were needlessly threatened and detained for several days? Or, finally, why opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been rotting in jail for over a year?
Explaining to Bolivar the general conditions that have allowed for Venezuela’s implosion is not difficult, nor does it take much time. All it takes—and this has been hard for some Western intellectuals—is an ability to understand that Venezuela has, for some time, been ruled by a cracked, authoritarian leader who simply does not care about the welfare of his people. Once one grasps this important point, the recent, and not-so-recent turmoil, becomes clear as a Caracas day.
Last year, Eduardo Sanchez, writing for The Center for Conflict Studies, a research center of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, published an article entitled “Traits of a Paranoid Personality,” which provides a nice, albeit pithy, insight into how Maduro’s governing style fits that of your typical paranoid, tin-pot dictator. Among other things, Sanchez focuses on Maduro’s increasingly bizarre use of Twitter. Everything from the well-worn aspersions cast toward the “imperialist” United States, to the promotion of conspiracy theories on the death of his great mentor, or direct threats again so-called “fascists” trying topple his regime, Maduro seems determined to do everything to prevent his audience from focusing on the reasons the country is near total collapse.
Normally, using tweets to fill out a psychological profile of world leaders is a fools-errand. And yet, at times, the practice is quite instructive. Recent, racist tweets from Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s (Argentina is another sad case of a failing state) personal Twitter account during a money-grubbing visit to China (Venezuela has trod this same, well-worn path) are a nice window into the illogical, sporadic governing style that has come to characterize her administration.
Maduro’s tweets reveal largely the same thing as Kirchner’s—paranoia, illogical pronouncements, etc.—but they also display something more, something not even Kirchner’s social media platform can be said to exhibit: desperation. More specifically, Maduro appears to have become well aware that his control over Venezuela’s destiny is becoming tenuous. In the past few days, he has publically accused the United States of attempting to foment a coup in the country and ordered American embassy staff reduced from 100 workers to 17. (He has also, for good measure, banned George W. Bush and Dick Cheney from visiting the country.) With approval ratings hovering near 20%, there is little surprise in Maduro’s tried-and-true blame of the “insolent Yankees!” What is more indicative, however, of Maduro’s desperate frame of mind, is the increasingly hostile targeting opposition officials are now facing. As the Associated Press recently noted, 33 of the country’s 50 opposition mayors have open cases against them. The Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma cases are striking examples of the political intimidation tactics the Maduro regime now resorts to.