Venezuela moves on to water and electricity rationing as Rubio pushes economic sanctions

The widespread protests that broke out in Venezuela in February have been slowly tapering off — not because the runaway inflation rate, crime rate, and basic goods shortages that sparked the unrest have at all improved, but because of the spreading resignation that a government coup isn’t quite imminent — and this morning, the government moved to crack down on the remaining protests by fabricating claims of drugs, explosives, and weapons abounding in the protesters’ camps and rounding up the supposed offenders, via Reuters:

Venezuelan security forces on Thursday rounded up hundreds of youth activists camped in public spaces as part of protests against President Nicolas Maduro, an effort to snuff out the waning demonstration movement.

Troops staged pre-dawn raids to break up four improvised tent camps decorated with Venezuelan flags and signs bearing protest slogans, one of which had for weeks been blocking traffic along a main avenue of the capital.

Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez said soldiers arrested 243 people, accusing the students of using the camps as a base of operations to stage violent protests in other parts of the city.

As I said, nothing about Venezuela’s economic situation has improved as Maduro has continued to blame the shortages on greedy businessmen and foreign conspirators waging an “economic war” against his regime — and indeed, things are about to get a whole lot worse. Via Bloomberg:

Venezuela’s government announced the start of electricity rationing in western Zulia state as well as water rationing in Caracas to reduce demand on the power grid, a day after Ford Motor Co. halted production in Latin America’s largest oil exporter.

The second-largest U.S. automaker joins competitor Toyota Motor Corp. and Dutch truck-maker CNH Industrial NV in suspending assembly in the South American country because of the difficulty of obtaining dollars to import parts from the government.

Shortages of everything from water to car parts and flour to pregnancy tests come after three months of protests against the government of President Nicolas Maduro that have left at least 41 people dead. The government yesterday said it will start rationing electricity and water as drought drains hydroelectric reservoirs and water tanks.

“This is another acknowledgment that the country is not working,” Michael Shifter, president of Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, said in a phone interview yesterday. “If this spreads to the rest of the country and becomes a nationwide rationing of electricity, it will significantly cut into Maduro’s support.”

And this is just the latest bad economic news on top of a report from Human Rights Watch out this week reporting on cases of military and paramilitary pro-government forces have been beating and shooting unarmed protesters, as well as making completely undue arrests and torturing detainees. The social, political, and economic situation for Venezuelans just keeps devolving, and Sen. Marco Rubio is again pushing hard for sanctions that he hopes will show the world that the United States is “firmly on the side of the democratic aspirations of the Venezuelan people”:

State Department officials will brief a Senate committee Thursday on violent street protests that have rocked the country for weeks, and a House panel will finalize its version of a sanctions bill Friday.

The legislation in both chambers is relatively modest. It centers on $15 million in new funds to promote democracy and rule of law in the South American country. It bans visas for Venezuelan officials who crushed anti-government protests by students, opposition leaders and others and freezes their assets. …

“This is happening in our very own hemisphere,” Rubio said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press. He said sanctions should target anyone responsible for human rights violations, refusing to rule out Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as a potential target.