Has Venezuelan President Maduro gone insane?

A provocative article in the Daily Beast this morning that outlines the "erratic" - or crazy - actions and statements from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

How crazy? He claims to have spoken to his dead mentor, Hugo Chavez, via a talking bird.

He has also spouted more conspiracy theories against him than you would find at a convention of the John Birch Society.

 Maduro has overseen the swift and profound decline of Venezuela—from an oil-rich, leftistpowerhouse under Chavez to an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highestinflation rate in the world. When oil prices were high and revenues extravagant, that cushioned the people to some extent from the incompetence of the government. But that buffer is long gone.

Violent crime and kidnappings are so rampant that the State Department just issued a travel alert warning away U.S. citizens. And commodity shortages have become so severe that it’s sometimes impossible to buy a roll of toilet paper in Caracas. 

Like many autocrats, Maduro appears to suffer from an acute case of political paranoia. He has cracked down on opposition leadership— handing out a 14-year-prison sentence to popular opposition leader Leopold Lopez earlier this month over trumped up charges. And he’s repeatedly authorized the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.

Not is Maduro’s persecution complex limited to domestic affairs. He recently claimed neighboring Colombia and Guyana are waging “economic war” against Venezuela—charges which conveniently justify violating the sovereignty of both nations. 

“If he believes a lot of what he’s saying about the conspiracy theories against him, then he’s not the sanest man in the world,” says Adam Isaacson, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in an interview with The Daily Beast.

 

“Internationally there’s no trust of Maduro at all,” Isaacson says. “He says things that aren’t true, and he’s quite erratic.”

Among his strange declarations to the press: claiming to receive advice from the deceased Chavez via a talking bird.

Such is the state of things at the moment, that “one of the main interests of the international community now is to prevent a catastrophic implosion,” says Isaacson, because that could have disastrous implications for the entire region. “Something very ugly could happen in the next few months,” he warns.

There is a real crisis on the border with Colombia as Maduro's crackdown on smugglers has resulted in 20,000 terrified indigenous people fleeing from Venezuela across the boder. Evidently, the Venezuelan military makes no distinction between profiteers and the indians who inhabit the area. Venezuelan troops have opened fire on innocents in recent days, injecting more hysteria into the region. A majority of Colombians now believe war is imminent.

There is little chance that the Venezuelan military will intervene and overthrow Maduro because he is protected by hundreds of Cuban troops who act as his personal bodyguard. Also, Hugo Chavez purged the military of anyone who might think independently, leaving the army with no effective leadership. In the paranoid atmosphere of Caracas, it would be difficult to initiate a coup plot without it becoming known. So Maduro seems safe - for the moment.

But the near future looks grim. A collapse of the Venezuelan economy would initiate a refugee crisis as severe as the one currently unfolding in Europe. And Maduro might end up in a straitjacket if that happens.

 

A provocative article in the Daily Beast this morning that outlines the "erratic" - or crazy - actions and statements from Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

How crazy? He claims to have spoken to his dead mentor, Hugo Chavez, via a talking bird.

He has also spouted more conspiracy theories against him than you would find at a convention of the John Birch Society.

 Maduro has overseen the swift and profound decline of Venezuela—from an oil-rich, leftistpowerhouse under Chavez to an Orwellian dystopia, complete with the highestinflation rate in the world. When oil prices were high and revenues extravagant, that cushioned the people to some extent from the incompetence of the government. But that buffer is long gone.

Violent crime and kidnappings are so rampant that the State Department just issued a travel alert warning away U.S. citizens. And commodity shortages have become so severe that it’s sometimes impossible to buy a roll of toilet paper in Caracas. 

Like many autocrats, Maduro appears to suffer from an acute case of political paranoia. He has cracked down on opposition leadership— handing out a 14-year-prison sentence to popular opposition leader Leopold Lopez earlier this month over trumped up charges. And he’s repeatedly authorized the use of deadly force against demonstrators he sees as a threat to his regime.

Not is Maduro’s persecution complex limited to domestic affairs. He recently claimed neighboring Colombia and Guyana are waging “economic war” against Venezuela—charges which conveniently justify violating the sovereignty of both nations. 

“If he believes a lot of what he’s saying about the conspiracy theories against him, then he’s not the sanest man in the world,” says Adam Isaacson, a senior associate with the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), in an interview with The Daily Beast.

 

“Internationally there’s no trust of Maduro at all,” Isaacson says. “He says things that aren’t true, and he’s quite erratic.”

Among his strange declarations to the press: claiming to receive advice from the deceased Chavez via a talking bird.

Such is the state of things at the moment, that “one of the main interests of the international community now is to prevent a catastrophic implosion,” says Isaacson, because that could have disastrous implications for the entire region. “Something very ugly could happen in the next few months,” he warns.

There is a real crisis on the border with Colombia as Maduro's crackdown on smugglers has resulted in 20,000 terrified indigenous people fleeing from Venezuela across the boder. Evidently, the Venezuelan military makes no distinction between profiteers and the indians who inhabit the area. Venezuelan troops have opened fire on innocents in recent days, injecting more hysteria into the region. A majority of Colombians now believe war is imminent.

There is little chance that the Venezuelan military will intervene and overthrow Maduro because he is protected by hundreds of Cuban troops who act as his personal bodyguard. Also, Hugo Chavez purged the military of anyone who might think independently, leaving the army with no effective leadership. In the paranoid atmosphere of Caracas, it would be difficult to initiate a coup plot without it becoming known. So Maduro seems safe - for the moment.

But the near future looks grim. A collapse of the Venezuelan economy would initiate a refugee crisis as severe as the one currently unfolding in Europe. And Maduro might end up in a straitjacket if that happens.