This South American country of 29 million, which the American public knows little about but learned to dislike during the 14-year rule of the late Hugo Chávez, is in the midst of economic calamity, political violence and social unrest. Inflation is galloping along at nearly 60 percent. There are widespread shortages of basic foods and products. And, since February, over 40 people have been killed in street protests.
Although Venezuela has some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves and is a leading oil exporter, decades of mismanagement and a long history of corruption have left South America’s most highly urbanized society plagued with power blackouts and an antiquated infrastructure. Its president, Nicolás Maduro, who was hand-picked by Chávez and who narrowly won election in April 2013, has charged the U.S. with fomenting a Ukraine-style coup in a bid to “get their hands on Venezuelan oil.”
Maduro accuses Washington of backing Venezuela’s opposition coalition, with the “aim of paralyzing the main cities of the country, copying badly what happened in Kiev, where the main roads in the cities were blocked off until they made governability impossible, which led to the overthrow of the elected government of Ukraine.”
In the broader region, whether it’s Brazil, whose once-hot economy is in decline and where tensions between rich and poor are rising while pressure mounts on the ruling coalition to answer corruption allegations against Petrobras, the country’s largest company; or Argentina, where recent general strikes were held in opposition to austerity measures, declining living standards, rising unemployment and rampant inflation — it’s the same story: With nothing left to lose, people will be losing it.