In Brief

Venezuela on the brink of collapse

Political and financial crisis deepens with pressure on president Nicolas Maduro to stand down

160518-venezuela.jpg

The political and economic crisis in Venezuela is continuing to deepen, with protesters taking to the streets of Caracas to demand that socialist president Nicolas Maduro resign.

"A large, seemingly wealthy, apparently modern and resource-rich country is on the brink of collapse, financial default and, potentially, a humanitarian crisis," says the Financial Times.

There has been little intervention from foreign powers, which should have "every interest" in encouraging a stable outcome in a country with the world's largest oil reserves, the newspaper reports.

Desperation

Venezuela's crumbling economy has been hit hard by plummeting oil prices, with the country suffering triple-digit inflation, as well as chronic medicine and food shortages that have sparked riots.

People are being forced to queue for hours outside supermarkets, even in wealthier parts of the capital, and there are widespread reports of looting. "I have not been able to get milk, sugar or cornflour in about four or five months," said one woman.

Some are turning to black market traders, known as bachaqueros, who "sell basic products at eye-watering prices", says The Guardian.

Power outages have exacerbated the oil-dependent nation's already significant economic woes and forced Madura to impose a two-day working week for all government employees. The government has so far managed to avoid complete economic collapse by borrowing billions of dollars from China.

Last week, Madura declared a 60-day state of emergency in order to protect the country from what he described as a "coup". The latest opinion polls reveal 70 per cent of people want him out by the end of the year, but he continues to cling to power.

"You can hear the ice cracking," said one US intelligence official.

The blame game

Maduro has long laid the blame for the meltdown on an "economic war" being waged by the opposition and its international allies in order to end his rule.

The opposition, which stormed to victory in legislative elections last December, says Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, are responsible.

"The threats Venezuelans face today are not the result of foreign or domestic conspiracies, but Mr Maduro's disastrous leadership," says the New York Times.

Even some of the president's own supporters have turned their back on him. "We voted for Maduro because of a promise we made [to] Chavez, but that promise has expired," mechanic Wilson Fajardoa told Reuters. "Either they solve this problem, or we're going to have to take to the streets."

The future

There is enormous public support for a national recall referendum, which could remove Maduro from power and trigger fresh elections.

But vice president Aristobulo Isturiz made the government's stance clear this week. "Maduro will not be ousted by a referendum because there will be no referendum," he said.

"The military, packed with Chavez loyalists, is seen as key to Maduro's survival," says Reuters. It adds that opposition groups are also struggling to mobilise enough of the electorate. "Fears of more violence after 2014 protests that left 43 people dead may yet keep a lid on unrest," it says.

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