Tags: Nicolas Maduro | Antonio Ledezma | Venezuela | oil

Amid Economic Chaos, Venezuelan President Cracks Down on Opposition

Amid Economic Chaos, Venezuelan President Cracks Down on Opposition
Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro. (Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters/Landov)

By    |   Monday, 23 February 2015 02:36 PM

The decline in global gas prices has only deepened the economic crisis plaguing Venezuela and the discontent many feel toward the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, who has responded to protests by cracking down on his opponents and charging the United States with attempting to overthrow his government.

"He must respond for the crimes committed against peace in the country, security and the constitution, I ask for the country’s support to consolidate peace through justice — enough of conspirators," said Maduro last week in referring to Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, who was detained, according to The Miami Herald.

In the last year, the price of Venezuelan oil has dropped from $97 per barrel to less than $40, which is catastrophic for a nation which imports more than 70 percent of all its consumer goods and relies on oil exports for over 95 percent of its foreign exchange, according to Harold Trinkunas, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

"Reports from Venezuela indicate longer lines at markets, shortages across a wider spectrum of goods and occasional outbursts of looting at supermarkets. These problems are even worse in the regions most distant from the national capital, Caracas," writes Trinkunas.

Echoing the paranoia that was a hallmark of Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who died in 2013, Maduro took to Twitter over the weekend to allege the crackdown on opposition forces was part of an effort to thwart a "coup supported and promoted from the north," reports The New York Times.

"The aggression of power from the United States is total and on a daily basis," he added.
Last week, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki released a statement stating that Maduro's allegations of "coup plotting and destabilization are baseless and false."

But even some pro-Chavez supporters are confused by Ledezma's arrest because he is not seen as politically influential.

"Fueling suspicion is a distraction tactic from the huge currency devaluation we’ve had to withstand. What’s not clear is the proof of wrongdoing in this case," Nicmer Evans, a pro-Ch├ívez political consultant who has openly criticized Maduro, tells The Times.

Maduro has seen his popularity decline to 22 percent, the lowest point since his election in 2013, and many express belief that more detentions are almost certain.

"The only reason this happened is because there is no democracy here. Every opposition leader has a number on them and it’s just a matter of time before our number comes up. Today it was Ledezma but tomorrow it could be any of us," David Smolansky, the mayor of Hatillo, tells The Miami Herald.

If Maduro's ploy does not spark violent demonstrations akin to those that occurred last year and did lead to an improvement in his polls, the Venezuelan dictator may simply resort to cancelling or postponing the upcoming elections.

"Some commentators believe that the government is prepared, if all else fails, to declare a state of emergency and suspend the constitution. Evidence is growing that it will do whatever it takes to hold on to power," reports The Economist.

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The decline in global gas prices has only deepened the economic crisis plaguing Venezuela and the discontent many feel toward the country's president, Nicolas Maduro, who has responded to protests by cracking down on his opponents.
Nicolas Maduro, Antonio Ledezma, Venezuela, oil
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2015-36-23
Monday, 23 February 2015 02:36 PM
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