Venezuela: Maduro makes a grab for total power
President Nicolás Maduro has been foiled in his attempt to become Venezuela’s supreme dictator, said Xabier Coscojuela in Tal Cual (Venezuela). Ever since his defeat in December 2015, when the opposition won a supermajority in the National Assembly, Maduro has been trying to strip the legislative body of power. He used his lame-duck legislature in late 2015 to stack the Supreme Court with justices loyal to his Socialist Party. That compliant court recently issued two bombshell rulings taking “galactic leaps toward authoritarianism,” all but abolishing the National Assembly and stripping lawmakers of immunity, paving the way for opposition legislators to be charged with treason. But after massive street demonstrations, an international outcry, and condemnations from Maduro’s own attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, “who courageously denounced these violations of the constitution,” the court revoked its rulings. Still, Maduro has shown us that he is willing “to walk the road toward pure, harsh dictatorship,” and we must redouble our opposition. “We Venezuelans want to live under democracy.”
Maduro may have backed down this time, said El Mundo (Spain) in an editorial, but “it is essential to redouble foreign pressure on the Bolivarian regime.” Maduro already has nearly total power, having seized control over the economy and defense, and is “ruling practically as an autocrat.” Now he has demonstrated “how far he will go to perpetuate himself in power.” Venezuela lost any claim to being a democracy a long time ago, said José Miguel Vivanco in El Comercio (Peru). The National Electoral Council, which Maduro also stuffed with loyalists before he lost his parliamentary majority, improperly stopped a recall referendum against him last October, claiming without evidence that the opposition had rigged a signature drive. And election officials have failed to call the local elections that were due last year. Opposition leaders, such as Leopoldo López, have been “arbitrarily imprisoned” with “no due process,” journalists and activists arrested, and protesters detained en masse and tortured. Yet so long as Venezuela remains a petro-state, Maduro has a source of income to dole out to loyalists, allowing him to hold on to power.
This political crisis, in fact, was really about oil—and it has ramifications for the U.S., said Robin Mills in The National (United Arab Emirates). Maduro wanted to strip the legislature of power because it refused to rubber-stamp his oil deal with Russia, in which Russia’s state-owned Rosneft acquired 40 percent of a major Venezuelan oil company. Russia is now the Maduro regime’s “key financier,” and in exchange for Russian loans, Venezuela has pledged half its shares in its U.S.-based refining and gas retail company, Citgo. If Venezuela were to default on its loans from Russia, Rosneft would own American refineries, and that “would be political dynamite in Washington.” So far, President Trump has named no ambassador to Venezuela and has no clearly defined Venezuela policy. That has to change, and soon.