The only thing President Nicolas Maduro has to offer the Venezuelan people now is more Marxist cruelty. He has plenty of that. His country is slowly starving to death, with vast stocks of food (and medicines) awaiting delivery from Colombia and Brazil just next door. The groceries have collected there, a gift from the largesse of the United States and dozens of other nations.
President Maduro and his compliant army, all well fed, are blocking delivery of the food, presumably because the Venezuelans don’t love him enough and must be punished as a point of Bolivarian pride. “With this show of humanitarian aid,” the president with the ample belly says, “they are trying to send a message that ‘Venezuela has to go begging to the world.’ And Venezuela will not beg for anything from anyone in this world.”
Diosdado Cabello, a prominent supporter of Mr. Maduro, says the aid effort is part of a hostile foreign military intervention that will be rebuffed. “Our territory must be respected. As our brother President Nicolas Maduro has said, any military unit that tries to penetrate our territory will be repelled and our Bolivarian national armed forces will defend our territory. There should be no doubt about it.”
But discontent with Mr Maduro is growing, with an economy in free fall and widespread shortages of food and medicine. Children are sent to bed in tears because they have no supper. Dozens of groups, called colectivos, or collectives, see themselves as the defenders of the Bolivarian revolution and vow to defend Mr. Maduro, as he faces Venezuela in economic and political crisis. “The United States has blocked our economy,” says one defiant member of the Maduro cabinet. “The cost of this blockade is over $30 billion — and they are sending this so-called humanitarian aid for $20 million. So what is this? I’m choking you, I’m killing you, and then I’m giving you a cookie? So that’s a show.”
Juan Andres Mejia, a lawmaker from People’s Will — the party of Juan Guaido, the “interim” president recognized by the United States and most governments in the West — says delivering aid across borders is a double challenge to the Maduro regime. “The government has a dilemma,” he says. “Either they let aid in and look weak, or they refuse it, which I don’t think they will because they are not so stupid, and they will also lose. So it is a win-win situation for us — and for the people.”
The United States faces an ugly choice, whether to intervene militarily and bring down the regime before the internal economic situations deteriorate further, or risk the anti-American protests sure to follow, demonstrating against America being the national sport of many South American countries. The goal of the opposition now is to break President Maduro’s grip on the military, and the president calls the humanitarian aid “the Trojan horse” in an attempt to do that.
Juan Andres Mejia says the opposition does not want to provoke a military incident which could be used to justify international intervention to depose the president. “That’s not our goal. That is not what we are looking for. Basically, the strategy is to show people that humanitarian aid is real, [that] it is not only a discourse.” The food and medicine is close. “It can be here soon.” The opposition, he says, is a non-violent movement. “We do not have weapons and we do not want to have them. We are absolutely certain that violence benefits the government and we cannot win a violent struggle against the government.”
Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of State, says the Venezuelan people desperately the need humanitarian aid. “Many countries are trying to help, but Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must let aid reach the starving people.”
The crisis could turn more violent with the armed colectivos, working alongside security forces loyal to the president, taking a key role in the streets. At least 40 persons were killed across the country in a single week last month, with pro-government forces blamed for most of the deaths.
Mr. Maduro’s hold on power is slipping, but the powerful military is reluctant to give him the final push. His predecessor, Hugo Chavez, purged the military to ensure its senior figures shared the profligate left-wing ideas that turned the richest country in South America into a miserable basket case. Venezuelan children cry for something to eat, and the president of the ample belly rewards his friends with positions of power in a crumbling government. The ordinary Venezuelans can only dream of dining on those groceries so close at hand,