Venezuela may be sliding into a civil war

From the Washington PostIt was like a scene from a movie. On late Tuesday afternoon, residents in Caracas saw a blue police helicopter circling the capital, carrying a banner that read “Libertad,” or “freedom,” and the number “350″ — a reference, my colleagues explained, “to the article in the Venezuelan constitution that allows people to ‘disown’ their government if it acts in an undemocratic way.”

Government officials said the chopper then dropped a number of grenades on Venezuela’s Supreme Court buildings and strafed the Interior Ministry. On Wednesday, authorities were on the hunt for the alleged ringleader of the attack, Oscar Perez, an actor who also served in the country’s special forces.

In a country wracked by political turmoil and economic collapse, the helicopter incident — framed as a coup attempt by embattled President Nicolás Maduro and his supporters — happened to be just one explosive episode in yet another a day of chaos. Protests and counter-protests continued in several Venezuelan cities; pro-government supporters stormed the National Assembly, which is dominated by opposition legislators; Maduro made an incendiary televised speech, warning darkly of further violence. …

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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.

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