-OpEd-

As the old saying goes, no situation is so bad that it can't get worse. The cruel irony of Venezuela's going from bad to worse is how the government of President Nicolás Maduro is incompetent at everything save keeping power. It is a power play designed to spread suffering further every day, while keeping the loyalty of a minority of supporters needed to ensure its survival.

Camilo Torres, a 1960s leftist militant and priest, once was quoted as saying that a hungry people does not fight, but kneels. At least it does not fight to the end. It sounds cruel to say this, but it is clearly applicable to the people of Venezuela right now.

The country's opposition lies in ruins. The lesson we may derive is that "democracy" without real democracy, meaning without equal opportunities, is at least as harmful as a brazen dictatorship. We might say in retrospect that the opposition forces who declared it was necessary to take part in the recent faux elections, for state governors' offices, were mistaken, even if the opposition's boycotting of legislative polls in 2005 was also a mistake for handing institutions to forces loyal to the then president, Hugo Chávez.

There was an idea then that the man could not last much longer and, it was thought, abstention might weaken him further. But he did last and did as he pleased while he lived.

A perfect definition of democracy

There is always a temptation in politics to try to rectify yesterday's mistakes, not thinking that conditions change. The philosopher Karl Popper once said, with his knack for perfect clarity, that democracy is ultimately defined as the ability to get rid of bad rulers. He did not bother adding that it should serve to elect virtuous ones. The sitting ruler is always at an advantage, and if in addition he engages in massive fraud, it is very difficult to dislodge him electorally. Still, the opposition managed to win the parliamentary elections of late 2015. Which led one outspoken and notorious lawmaker and Maduro supporter, Diosdado Cabello, to declare that this would not happen again. And it has not.

There will be presidential elections at some point, when a divided and embittered opposition will not be able to count on any unifying figure, who have been systematically banned from public office. Without them, and with the expected high dose of fraud, it is difficult to see how the government could lose.

Henceforth the Bolivarian or Chavista regime is responsible for absolutely everything happening in Venezuela. Appalling conditions will deteriorate even further as the model chosen grows more dysfunctional and a humanitarian crisis gets deeper by the day in a country once dripping with wealth.

The danger many fear with this regime is the accumulation of too much income within the state. Rulers should not be given a free hand to delve into the national wealth, especially when it is nature's gift in the shape of crude oil, in spite of a decline in oil revenues in recent years. In a more normal situation, people would not allow the state to ransack the public coffers so much if it were filled with their taxes.

Anyway, the catastrophe looks destined to continue. It does not look as if the Venezuelan opposition could participate in government-arranged "elections" and win. Boycotting elections is hardly helpful you might say, and I would agree, but in any case, one does not see where you can chip away at this regime.

That leaves Venezuelans hoping for some international factor or agent to destabilize the regime enough to topple it. But we should recall Maduro's one and only skill: holding on to power.


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