Venezuela, the uprising no one is noticing
There are plenty of reasons to worry about Venezuela. A country with the world’s largest oil reserves now also manages to beat the world in inflation, violent crime and shortages of essential goods. The government’s response consists mostly of arrests of opposition activists, expulsions of U.S. diplomats, and wild propaganda about the supposed threat of a fascist coup or U.S. invasion.
The most discouraging aspect of Venezuela’s agony, however, is its isolation. While European and American diplomats have flooded into Ukraine and President Obama has spent hours on the phone with Vladimir Putin, Venezuela’s crisis has been largely ignored by the outside world. No envoys visited Caracas in the past several weeks, even as street battles between government and opposition forces raged. The only would-be broker who has even talked about flying in is 89-year-old Jimmy Carter, who said he might add it to his schedule in April.
The neglect is not because the country of some 26 million is insignificant. In addition to being the fourth-largest supplier of U.S. oil, Venezuela props up the economy of Cuba and borders the Caribbean as well as Colombia. It is already a major transit point for drug trafficking. Its collapse into chaos could destabilize an entire region in the United States’ back yard.
There is a clear role for outsiders to play. Venezuela is utterly polarized between followers of Hugo Chávez and a mass opposition that, driven by students, has begun barricading the streets of Caracas and other cities. The two sides are no more able than are Ukraine’s combatants to strike an accord on their own.
Yet some kind of pact is desperately needed. Unless drastic measures are taken to stabilize its economy, Venezuela could soon be unable to pay for its food, most of which is imported. The next elections are in late 2015, so the ballot box will not provide a means of settling the conflict.
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