Is Venezuela failing? As clashes between police and protesters devolve into clashes between desperate mothers fighting over milk and diapers, it’s hard to argue otherwise.
“We warned the people of Venezuela that if we don’t stop this crisis now, it will be worse in a year,” said Carlos Vecchio, co-founder of the “Voluntad Popular” political movement opposing President Nicolas Maduro.
Vecchio claims his country has become a narco-state, and that “the U.S. should be concerned” about the threat that its collapse poses. Nearly two years after the death of Hugo Chávez, his successor Maduro has overseen a steep decline in Venezuelans’ freedoms and opportunities.
The imprisonment of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez almost exactly a year ago was a low point. Vecchio served as his deputy and assumed leadership responsibilities after Lopez’s arrest, but now he has been forced to flee into exile.
“This has been the worst situation I have faced in my life,” Vecchio said. “I cried when I left my country.”
How have things gotten to this point? As with so much in Venezuela, it comes down to oil. Its price has fallen from $90 to $47 in the past year, and inflation has soared by 60 percent.
“What we are witnessing now is a perfect storm,” Vecchio said.
If you need any more numbers, try this one on for size: $700 for a 36-pack of condoms.
Maduro, meanwhile, has cracked down on privately owned businesses, seizing dozens of stores belonging to a supermarket chain and a top pharmacy franchise, arresting top executives and blaming them for the long lines at their stores.
Maduro has also authorized the military and police to use force to quell dissent (40 people died in protest violence last year). He’s taking cues from Castro also, accusing the U.S. of conspiring to overthrow him.
And what’s his plan to turn the country around? Lately, he’s been calling on God to provide for Venezuelans, who are increasingly worse of as the hardships mount. Soon, something may have to give.