Venezuela’s dictator Nicholas Maduro has been embarrassed. In a transparent bid to rally political support, he asked voters to demand that their government annex two-thirds of Guyana through a hastily called plebiscite.
Venezuelans did overwhelmingly support the plainly one-sided poll, but turnout was small and noticeably lacking in enthusiasm. It was not the result the regime expected or craved as it attempted to divert attention from political and economic woes in the face of a newly competitive presidential campaign.
In its decade in power, the Maduro regime has presided over economic collapse, including the largest humanitarian crisis in the modern history of Latin America. More than seven million people have fled Venezuela out of an original population of some 30 million, according to estimates.
The economy is a fraction of its size in 2013. Inflation tops Syria and Zimbabwe as the highest in the world. The regime and its supporters like to blame US sanctions for economic collapse, but the crisis began well before sectoral energy restrictions were levied in 2019.
This followed the hollowing out of the professional class years earlier, particularly those in the vital energy sector, as well as a fall in broader economic activity from the regime’s confiscatory approach to private enterprise and property. Massive corruption has long crowded out new investment. Deteriorating personal security has increased business costs; the once-vibrant tourism sector has collapsed.
The regime has nonetheless proven it can weather economic difficulties so long as it continues to generate sufficient income for regime officials, its security forces, provides state-sponsored benefits to core supporters, and pays its debts to international friends including China. In the meantime, going back to its founding by Hugo Chavez, it has remained expert in co-opting the democratic process to keep the opposition divided and claim repeated mandates to rule.