Venezuela is on the fast track to smash-up

Miami Herald Editorial Board

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures to supporters during a political rally in Caracas last week.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures to supporters during a political rally in Caracas last week. AP

The latest evidence of President Nicolás Maduro’s reckless political mismanagement came on Monday night: His stacked Supreme Court vetoed a political amnesty bill that might have eased Venezuela’s simmering political tensions.

With Venezuela facing political gridlock and an epic economic collapse, a responsible president would try to steer the nation away from the near certainty of an upcoming train wreck. Instead, President Maduro seems determined to go full steam ahead regardless of the outcome.

The amnesty bill was considered a potential first step toward a solution for Venezuela’s dangerous gridlock. It was a priority for the opposition-controlled Congress elected last year by voters who rejected the direction in which Mr. Maduro and his bumbling cohorts have taken the once-prosperous country.

Instead, the jurists, obedient to Mr. Maduro’s political will, rejected the amnesty law by saying it allowed for impunity, thus echoing the language that the president has been using for months to denounce the legislation. He labeled it “criminal” and urged the court to invalidate it. They obediently complied.

By killing the amnesty law, Mr. Maduro and his servile judicial branch effectively closed the door on political reconciliation in a bitterly polarized country. The law would have offered a measure of justice to 86 political prisoners whose crimes amount to little more than civil disobedience and taking part in nonviolent protests against the government machine.

Among the beneficiaries would have been the prominent opposition leader Leopoldo López, who was sentenced to 13 years and nine months last year in a widely denounced political show trial for allegedly inciting violence during mass protests. Former Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, who is under house arrest, and the former mayor of San Cristobal, Daniel Ceballos, also would have been set free.

Ironically, the court ignored a startling precedent: the 2000 amnesty law that wiped the criminal slate clean for supporters of the suppressed military coup led in 1992 by the late Hugo Chávez, Mr. Maduro’s mentor and political patron. This law, following Mr. Chávez’s 1998 election, went considerably further than the one vetoed this week because it not only covered actual crimes like the killing of coup opponents, but it also reinstated to their former positions some military officers who supported the coup.

In 2007, Mr. Chávez himself signed an amnesty law that covered wrongdoing in the attempted coup that briefly ousted him from Miraflores Palace 14 years ago this week (April 2002) before he regained control. Mr. Chávez had nothing to lose and everything to gain by being magnanimous toward the opposition back then. Mr. Maduro could have been equally astute, but, then again, no one has ever accused him of having good political instincts.

This leaves Venezuela on the fast track to a smash-up.

This week’s report by the International Monetary Fund projected inflation would increase to an unimaginable 720 percent for the year, with the already depleted economy shrinking by 8 percent. Mr. Maduro has devalued the currency by 37 percent and raised fuel prices for the first time in 20 years. Most recently, he cut the official work week to four days to save electricity.

Nothing has worked. Now he’s closed the door on a political solution. When the crash comes, he’ll have no one to blame but himself.