Ed wrote a column not that long ago which painted a less than rosy picture of the state of affairs in Venezuela. The socialist paradise has been facing economic collapse as a combination of plunging oil prices, mismanagement and corruption has drained their coffers and led to civil unrest. Sounds like a perfect time to invoke a foreign scapegoat and create a crisis to distract the public, doesn’t it? We apparently gave them an opening this year when a new law declared that people involved with human rights violations would have their visas suspended and their assets frozen. This left Venezuela with less than two dozen workers, so they apparently decided that one good turn deserved another.

Venezuela has given the U.S. Embassy in Caracas 15 days to downsize its staff from 100 personnel to 17.

“With respect to bringing the number of staff at the U.S. Embassy in Venezuela to 17, a period of 15 days will be given to decide which staff will stay in our country,” said Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Delcy Rodriguez on Monday.

Venezuela’s official news agency AVN (Agencia Venezolana de Noticias) said the U.S. Embassy has been asked to reduce its personnel to a staff of 17 to match the number of Venezuelan personnel working in their embassy in the United States.

Of course, they had to up the ante a little.

Moreover, a group of prominent U.S. officials, current and retired, will be banned from entering Venezuela because of what Maduro said was their involvement in “bombing Iraq, Syria and Vietnam” and other “terrorist” actions. The officials include George W. Bush, former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney, former CIA Director George Tenet and several current members of Congress, including Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Bob Menendez and Mario Diaz-Balart.

This is all taking place in the same week that Nicolas Maduro announced that another American had been arrested in Caracas and is being held without official notification to our embassy or contact with the man through the consulate. US relations with the Venezuelan leader have never been exactly rosy, even at the best of times, but things are worse than usual this winter. One reason for that is that Maduro has an election coming up in October. How free or fair that event might actually be is up for debate, but it’s probably still on Maduro’s mind. And when things aren’t going well at home, there’s nothing like invoking the image of the Great Satan to stir up some civic pride.

But all of this might prove to be yet another example of how we can affect some of these unstable, oil producing nations with interests which run contrary to our own. Much as with our dealings with Russia, we can’t simply go around invading every country that’s causing problems. But with the right sort of economic power you can cause them to begin to crumble under their own weight. Venezuela has squandered its opportunities vis-à-vis the ocean of oil it’s sitting on. Through distrust of qualified foreign agents combined with a lack of investors (most of whom fear being robbed by Maduro) the country has largely lost its foreign oil producing partners. At the same time, their national oil company has collapsed under incompetence and fraud until their production has tanked.

All of this has led to ever worsening conditions for the people of Venezuela, and that’s bad news for a tyrant. We might not be able to knock down Maduro from the outside, but if his people are suffering enough they might trying taking him out from within.

Update (Ed): The post originally made several references to Hugo Chavez as the president of Venezuela. Chavez died quite a while ago, and the president is now Nicolas Maduro. I’ve changed it above.