A few months ago, it seemed as if Nicolas Maduro had pulled off his ascent to power without incident. The former bus driver and union leader hand-picked by Hugo Chavez to carry on his vision of Venezuela was elected, albeit narrowly, to a full term as president, and despite enjoying a handful of charismatic figures, the opposition seemed too diffuse to pose any real threat.
But a major shortage of consumer goods, a spike in violent crime, surging inflation and anger at Maduro’s heavy-handed tactics (and perhaps his transparent attempts to invoke the spirit of Chavez at every turn) have apparently changed the game. On Tuesday, rising opposition star Leopoldo Lopez turned himself in to police, and though Maduro announced triumphantly to cheering supporters that the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly was personally driving him to prison, the regime appears to be in growing danger. Not of imminent collapse, per se, as the security forces and street thugs remain loyal to their increasingly dictatorial Bolivarian champion. But with the latest death toll reaching five, Maduro’s tactics are sure to invite renewed scrutiny from his neighbors, ones Chavez was far more adept at cozying up with.
VISUAL CONTEXT: inflation in Venezuela has skyrocketed over the last year.
So while much of the global media’s gaze is trained instead on Ukraine, where more than 20 have been killed in that government’s crackdown on protesters angry at their own president’s ties to Vladimir Putin, we may be witnessing the breakdown of normal political life in Caracas. A CNN camera crew was mugged just yards away from national guardsmen on Tuesday night, a sign foreign media is less welcome than ever. Chavez never exactly encouraged outsider scrutiny, and his vitriol on the stump was the stuff of legend. But he also avoided extravagant displays of state power on unarmed civilians in public. In that sense, Maduro must be grateful for Ukraine’s chaos, as it is surely helping distract attention from his own flailing government.