It should be clear to all but those who remain willfully blind to reality that Venezuela is on an irreversible course to total collapse. Yet even so, the government this week passed on what may well be its last chance to avoid the inevitable social explosion.
Venezuela’s people desperately want to get rid of President Nicolás Maduro by nonviolent means and escape from the nightmare that daily life has become in what was once a proud Latin American democracy.
Food is next to impossible to find. In cities like Caracas, many families make do with one meal a day.
Doctors report children with severe cases of malnourishment far more common in other parts of the world, but not seen heretofore in Venezuela.
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Medicine has become a luxury, if you can find it. In Miami, benevolent “drug mules” have organized an unofficial network of couriers to send prescription drugs and medicines to those in need back home.
Crime is so rampant that people in cities like Caracas fear venturing far from home.
Mr. Maduro is incapable of fixing any of this because he is wed to a socialist model of governing that cannot possibly work as long as its virtually sole export — oil — continues to sell at less than half of the price it yielded just two or three years ago. Corruption, cronyism and inept management add to the economic debacle.
Venezuelans know that as long as Mr. Maduro is president, their predicament will only get worse. In the more than three years under his rule, the country has gone from bad to worse to intolerable.
The people of Venezuela, including many who once supported socialist policies, have tried just about everything in the arsenal of protest politics to make the rest of the world — as well as the government — understand that they are fed up, that they demand and deserve a government that actually works.
They’ve tried public, mostly peaceful demonstrations. They’ve tried voting in a legislative assembly controlled by Mr. Maduro’s opponents. They’ve tried holding a “dialogue” with the unresponsive government. The most desperate have finally capitulated and left the country.
None of this has obliged Mr. Maduro to change course. It’s as if he is determined to take the country over the cliff.
In the latest move, the democratic opposition gathered enough signatures on a petition for a recall referendum to trigger a process leading to a vote for a new government. This is the constitutionally prescribed way of changing the government.
Mr. Maduro’s electoral council responded this week by imposing a timetable for the next step in the process — gathering even more signatures, amounting to 20 percent of the country’s voters — that ensures that the actual vote (if it is allowed to take place) would not come about until next year.
Timing matters, The needless delay means that if Mr. Maduro loses the referendum, he would be succeeded by his vice president to serve the rest of his term through 2019. A vote this year, however, because it comes earlier in the incumbent’s term, could result in a new presidential election that the opposition would probably win.
By dragging its feet, the government has foreclosed the democratic option to peaceful change. That is on Mr. Maduro and his cronies. When the collapse comes, as it surely will eventually, the president and his cronies will have no one but themselves to blame.