Before he had worked his way up Hugo Chavez’ Bolivarian ladder of success to become Chavez’ protégé, and then successor, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was a bus driver.
That may have been what attracted him to Chavez, a romantic fool — among many other things — who probably loved the idea of a Venezuela where a bus driver could become President.
Chavez was lucky to have died before he could see the reality: the skill set of a bus driver, even augmented of decades of political work and personal sucking up, is not the skill set for a successful Presidency.
Now, Maduro has gone and driven the national bus off a cliff and virtually the whole nation feels like passengers, strapped in terror into their seats as they hit free-fall and plunge, in nightmare slow motion, towards a hard landing in … what? a military-police state? A chaotic failed state? A state of civil war? … or, a sudden new possibility … the object of a Donald Trump “military option?”
Another Bolivarian idea that President Chavez liked too much was that all the big shots in the oil business should report directly to “a man of the people,” like himself. And do what he says. So, Chavez’ legacy included an economy based on an oil industry which had been mismanaged and looted by his hand-picked team of sycophants and crooks. And a leadership team topped by a dog-loyal apparatchik better at directing ticket-takers than a Cabinet or a Government.
Nicolas Maduro has lived down to his legend. Every problem handed down to him by his predecessor Chavez, no matter how serious it may have been, Maduro’s made it worse.
He’s creating a new pseudo-structure of government, replacing an elected parliament with a constituent assembly selected by a small minority, as the people who had voted in the Parliament boycotted the vote for its replacement.
He’s “reformed” the country’s food distribution network, by giving it to the military, which has provided few improvements in management, but has been badly soiled by on-the-job corruption.
And the, there’s the oil industry, as decrepit as ever, but now facing the threat of a boycott by its best customer, the US, and the need to shift sales to Asia, where prices will be discounted, and will generate less cash, and more payback of huge debts to places like China.
How bad are things in Venezuela. There’s been a recent spate of animals disappearing from zoos. The peccaries and the tapirs look like boars and pigs and have almost certainly been turned into faux-pork chops.
But typical of today’s Venezuela, according to one zoo director, the animals are not being stolen by people who will eat them, but by drug gangs who butcher them and sell them through their own criminal networks.
Joshua Goodman is the Associated Press (AP) Bureau Chief for the Andean region of South America, based in Bogota. His responsibilities have him frequently in Caracas, where he has covered Venezuela’s ongoing political and economic crisis.