Venezuela may be on the brink of civil war and the US – for once – should keep its nose out

As the death toll from Venezuela’s controversial election reached at least ten, President Nicolas Maduro celebrated the vote as a “revolution” and mocked America’s refusal to acknowledge the results.

“A spokesperson for emperor Donald Trump said that they would not recognise the results of Venezuela’s constituent assembly election,” Maduro told a cheering crowd. “Why the hell should we care what Trump says. We care about what the sovereign people of Venezuela say.”

On Monday the US imposed sanctions on Maduro personally, giving himself something to seize on. In truth, the scolding of Venezuela by Washington is nothing new, and neither is the sight of a Venezuelan leader pouring cold scorn on such criticism. Who doesn’t remember Hugo Chavez standing at the UN and theatrically denouncing George W Bush as “the devil” and claiming the podium still bore the trace of his sulphur?

But this is not 2006 and Nicolas Maduro is not Hugo Chavez. Chavez was a controversial but charismatic leader who used his country’s oil wealth to invest in education and social welfare programmes for the country’s poor. If he carried with him an authoritarian tendency, he also built his so-called Bolivarian Revolution around the ballot box. He was elected president no fewer than four times.

Eleven years on, the people of Venezuela are less fortunate. While Chavez wanted Maduro to succeed him, and he won an election in 2013 to ensure their United Socialist Party of Venezuela retained the presidency, Maduro has few of the political skills of the man he has followed. With an approval rating at around 20 per cent, Maduro has surrounded himself increasingly with his hard core supporters.

“These are people who haven’t gone grocery shopping in 15 years,” Eva Golinger, a US lawyer who became a supporter and confidant of Chavez, recently told Reuters. “They don’t walk the streets. They’re not taking the subway.”

Golinger told The Independent she believed many who still supported Maduro did so because they feared what would happen if the conservative opposition were to take power. “They are still supporting Maduro because Chavez told them to,” she said.

And unlike in 2006, Venezuela’s economy is now in dire circumstances. Back then oil was selling at $70 a barrel; today it is less than $50. Inflation is running at 600 per cent and for those people without government or military connections, there are shortages of basic items, including food. Public…

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