Venezuela's slide to chaotic penury and violence continues. Socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro and his government ought to resign in shame, but caudillos and their cronies inevitably attempt to cling to power, no matter the suffering they inflict.
The Venezuelan people certainly suffer. In the last month, the nation with over 300 billion barrels in proven oil reserves has suffered three major electrical blackouts affecting three-quarters of the country. Even the capital, Caracas, went dark.
There's a loss of lives as well as lights. Venezuelan sources reported that 46 hospitalized patients died as a direct result of the first blackout.
Starvation haunts Venezuela. The United Nations estimates almost 4 million Venezuelans are malnourished. Some 22 percent of Venezuela children age 5 and younger suffer from chronic malnutrition.
Lack of food and medicine is one reason over 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country. Refugees in Colombia give aid workers detailed information on conditions in Venezuela. Medieval suffering? Yes, with cellphone videos providing 21st-century evidence.
Maduro and his government had refused humanitarian aid because they deny a humanitarian crisis exists. Maduro blames Venezuela's problems on "sabotage." Who are the saboteurs? Neighboring Colombia, the U.S., oil companies, capitalism, etcetera.
The real blame lies with Maduro and his predecessor, former army paratrooper Hugo Chavez, founder of the so-called socialist Bolivarian Revolution. Chavista authoritarianism and the corruption and repression socialism inevitably creates crippled and impoverished what was once one of Latin America's richest nations. The country's daily oil production is a third of what it was in 1999. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela's inflation rate in January was 2.6 million percent.
Maduro uses food as a weapon against his own people, just like the Soviet Union did. In July 2016, Venezuela's food shortages were so severe the military took charge of food distribution. In January 2017, the army took control of food imports.
Maduro's supporters immediately benefitted from this militarized system. They had and still have access to food. They can also demand bribes from starving citizens in exchange for food.
Over 50 nations (the U.S. among them) recognize opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuela's interim president. In January, Venezuela's National Assembly declared Maduro's 2018 re-election illegitimate and selected Guaido to form a new government. Guaido quickly declared the obvious: Humanitarian aid deliveries were a critical survival issue.
In February, Maduro's security forces blocked international bridges and kept aid trucks bearing food and medicine from entering the country. Once again the dictator used food as a weapon.
But on April 16, after the blackouts increased pressure on his regime, Maduro agreed to let the Red Cross deliver medicine and other supplies to hospital patients. Red Cross officials said they plan to assist 650,000 Venezuelans and that their organization refuses to accept interference from either the government or the opposition.
For good reason, the Red Cross engages in diplospeak. The opposition hasn't interfered; it has encouraged aid shipments. Maduro has interfered, but he still controls the guns.
It's a travesty. The Venezuelan military and the regime's security apparatus remain loyal to Maduro. Russia, China and Iran send him supplies. Cuban security and intelligence personnel surround him. Indeed, Maduro is the darling of authoritarian regimes to the point that they will protect him.
The Trump administration has told the Kremlin to withdraw some 100 Russian special operations soldiers now in Venezuela.
During a recent trip to South America, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sketched the regional threat. He told reporters, "A hundred percent of the refugee challenge that is faced by Peru and Colombia is the direct result of the Russians, the Cubans and Nicolas Maduro."
Unfortunately, it'll take more than blackouts to remove Maduro from power.
To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com. His latest book, "Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century" (Bombardier Books), is available now.