Venenzuelan President Nicolás Maduro apparently never learned the first rule of crisis management: When you’re in a hole, stop digging. With every move that he makes, he plunges his country deeper into the abyss of chaos.
The protests in the streets of Caracas and elsewhere that erupted last week come in response to the government’s inability to control either the economy or an epic crime wave, creating worsening scarcity on store shelves and an atmosphere of insecurity across the country.
Responsibility for the wretched conditions in Venezuela lies squarely with Mr. Maduro and his inept government. The scarcity is the result of failed price-control policies that have driven inflation to record levels (nearing 60 percent) and discouraged businesses from staying open. Similarly, his currency-control policies have fueled speculation on the black market, where a dollar fetches 10 times its value at the official exchange rate.
Rampant crime in a country whose streets were once considered safe is both a symptom and a result of the widespread disrespect for government fostered by Mr. Maduro and his mentor, the late Hugo Chávez.
But instead of responding to the concerns of demonstrators by changing course or talking to his adversaries, Mr. Maduro unleashed government-backed thugs who promptly escalated the violence on the streets. Predictably, this only made matters worse.
At least three people were killed by gunshots. News reports point to eyewitness accounts and videos that seem to show security forces and plainclothes gunmen behind police lines, firing into the crowds. Nearly 100 protesters were hauled away by police, and opposition activists say some detained student demonstrators were tortured.
The government also pulled Colombian cable broadcaster NTN24 off the air because it was supposedly causing “alarm.” That tactic won’t work. Eventually, the truth will out. Social media will see to that.
Nor will Mr. Maduro’s wild accusations that “right-wing fascists” are behind the bloodshed gain any traction. The government controls the weapons and the police.
Now Mr. Maduro has launched a manhunt for a respected leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez, in an effort to frighten his foes into silence.
It’s too late for that. The opposition is finding its voice and demanding the right to be heard.
For the moment, Mr. Maduro remains in control, but his hold on power is getting shakier. If he has to resort to calling the military into the streets, all pretense of democracy will vanish, and Mr. Maduro’s inability to govern will be exposed. Then it will be a new ballgame.
Mr. Lopez is a responsible leader with a wide following. He has called for a peaceful march to the Ministry of Justice on Tuesday to demand an end to persecution and freedom for detained demonstrators. Mr. Maduro should allow the protest. If he opts instead for more repression by trying to stifle the march, the ensuing violence will be of his own making.
Over the weekend, Mr. Maduro ordered the expulsion of three U.S. consular officials in an effort distract attention. That won’t fool anyone. His fight is with Venezuelans demanding their rights, not with the United States or any other nation.
Venezuela’s president is gambling with the future of his country. Apparently, he also hasn’t heard that other good bit of advice for anyone like him who’s on a losing streak: You’ve got to know when to fold ’em.