Venezuela and the eclipse of American leadership

From the Washington PostVenezuela’s steady descent into chaos has repeatedly prompted pundits like me to predict that the authoritarian populist regime founded by Hugo Chávez was doomed to collapse, or be ousted. That it hasn’t happened yet says a lot about how this Latin American meltdown is different and worse than any other in the past century. And it may be even more telling about the change in global role of the United States.

Last week, Caracas was again looking like a capital on the verge of revolution. Clouds of tear gas and volleys of rubber bullets filled normally jammed expressways as tens of thousands took to the streets to challenge the government now led by Nicolás Maduro. The causes for popular anger were legion: not just Maduro’s blatant rupture of democratic norms, but shortages so severe that three-quarters of Venezuelans say they have lost weight because of a lack of food; not just brutal repression, but the world’s worst rates of inflation and homicide.

Once again observers were predicting that Maduro’s days in power were numbered — that he would be forced to agree to the opposition’s demand for elections, or a group of patriotic generals would remove him in the name of restoring order. Perhaps this time they will finally be right. But Venezuela has proved remarkably resistant to the fail-safe mechanisms that usually break the fall of a middle-income country. Instead, it is looking more and more like the Zimbabwe of the Western hemisphere — a depraved dictatorship where no amount of misery seems sufficient to bring about a breaking point. …

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During the last several decades, the United States has invested billions of dollars in trying to help the governments of Latin America and the Caribbean deliver better lives for their citizens. This has meant helping them increase internal security by combating the illicit growing and trafficking in narcotics and the activities of terrorist groups, as well as helping them to shore up their democratic and free market institutions.

Unfortunately, in recent years, continued progress in these areas has been threatened, not least by the elections of radical populist governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador. These governments have instituted retrograde agendas that include the propagation of class warfare, state domination of the economy, assaults on private property, anti-Americanism, support for such international pariahs as Iran, and lackluster support for regional counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics initiatives.

We are a group of concerned policy experts that fear the results of these destructive agendas for individual freedom, prosperity, and the well-being of the peoples of the region. Our goal is to inform American policymakers and American and international public opinion of the dangers of these radical populist regimes to inter-American security.