U.S. intelligence officials said Friday they are concerned Venezuela is slipping into a crisis that could lead to a coup attempt or a government crackdown on dissent. Reuters reports:
In a bleak assessment of Venezuela’s worsening crisis, the senior officials expressed doubt that unpopular leftist President Nicolas Maduro would allow a recall referendum this year, despite opposition-led protests demanding a vote to decide whether he stays in office…
They said one “plausible” scenario would be that Maduro’s own party or powerful political figures would force him out and would not rule out the possibility of a military coup. Still, they said there was no evidence of any active plotting or that he had lost support from the country’s generals…
“You can hear the ice cracking. You know there’s a crisis coming,” one U.S. official said. “Our pressure on this isn’t going to resolve this issue.”
Having witnessed the fall this week of fellow leftist President Dilma Rousseff in Brazil (in what Rousseff termed a coup), Venezuela’s President Maduro is acting more paranoid than usual. Friday he announced a 60-day emergency measure designed to, “neutralize and defeat the external foreign aggression that has been initiated against our country.” The Wall Street Journal reports it could be the first step toward a crackdown on dissent:
To the opposition and constitutional experts in Venezuela, though, the decree sounded like it would lead to a crackdown on dissent. “That decree can restrict the right to hold demonstrations to protest scarcities or the lack of light,” said José Vicente Haro, a constitutional lawyer in Caracas.
Maduro has vowed not to leave office before his current term expires in two years. An opposition attempt to remove Maduro by referendum is being stalled by the socialist government so that, even if the referendum succeeds, Maduro’s vice president would serve out the remainder of his term. That would leave the socialists with enough power to continue blocking any attempts at reform proposed by the recently elected member of the opposition party in the National Assembly.
Maduro has already declared a 2-day work week for government workers in addition to rolling blackouts. Shortages of food and medicine have been a growing problem for more than a year. The country has triple-digit inflation and one of the highest murder rates in the world.