How much do Venezuelans hate President Nicolás Maduro? Apparently they revile him so much that – in a country where food shortages are so acute the average adult lost almost 20 pounds last year – they’re willing to throw eggs at him.
This is Semana Santa, the Easter Holy Week, a time when Maduro hoped most Venezuelans would pause their angry anti-government protests and head to the beach. Instead they pelted him with stones and eggs as his open car moved through Ciudad Guayana on Tuesday.
Maduro seems headed, eventually, for a political Good Friday. That’s harder to doubt as you watch this week’s alarming video of objects clipping him, and Venezuelans insulting him, along his own Via Dolorosa. Bu the sorry scene made me think of the first time I met Maduro 11 years ago – and how apparent it was back then that he was destined not only for egg on his face, but for doing real damage to Venezuela if given the chance.
That day I had just finished interviewing Maduro’s mentor, then President Hugo Chávez – who despite his socialist nuttiness at least had interesting things to say.
Maduro did not.
Our chat was stultifying. The only arrows in Maduro’s conversational quiver were Latin Leftisms about el pueblo and imperialismo. He was the Stalinist Stepford Wife. The Mindless Marxist. An empty Mao suit.
Maduro was no more prepared to run a republic than Caligula was to run an empire. So when Chávez, before he died in 2013, anointed Maduro as his successor over more competent choices, it was as if Don Corleone had tapped dimwit Fredo to run the family business instead of Michael.
The result: under Maduro, Chavez’s once poverty-busting revolution has gone from unraveling to wrecked. Oil-rich Venezuela is suffering the worst economic implosion in modern Latin American history – and an estimated 82 percent of the population now live in poverty – largely because it’s being run by the most clueless head of state in modern Latin American history.
And now that Maduro knows the vast majority of Venezuelans want to oust him, he has also become one of the region’s most dictatorial heads of state – the despot who just banned popular opposition leader Henrique Capriles from holding political office for 15 years.
That was just the latest of Maduro’s tinpot travesties – and maybe his dumbest, if the fact that so many Venezuelans are still railing on the street this week instead of lying on the sand is any indication.
Capriles, the governor of Miranda state adjoining Caracas, almost beat Maduro in the special 2013 presidential election to succeed Chávez. And the reason was simple: unlike most Venezuelan opposition figures, Capriles gets why the Chávez revolution came to power 18 years ago. He understands the resentment Venezuelans bear toward the ultra-corrupt, pre-Chávez elite, which itself kept half the population in poverty despite the nation’s prodigious oil wealth.
It’s why Capriles replicated many of Chávez’s anti-poverty programs in Miranda – and why so many Venezuelans voted for him in 2013. They considered him a reassuring Third Way between the pillaging old regime and the bungling Chavista regime. More opposition politicos followed Capriles’ outreach to the poor in parliamentary elections in 2015 – and they ended up winning control of Venezuela’s National Assembly in a landslide.
Maduro's delusional response? He thinks politically whacking Capriles will safeguard his whack government. Instead, he may have stabbed a political nerve that, per usual, he didn’t believe existed.
This week even people inside Venezuela’s urban slums – part of the dissolving Chavista base – have joined the hundreds of thousands of more middle-class demonstrators clashing with riot police. In the city of Barquisimeto, a 14-year-old protester was shot and killed, reportedly by the pro-Chavista thug squads known as colectivos.
Anti-Maduro demonstrations on this scale also broke out in 2014. They didn’t last, but what’s evident now is that Venezuela’s desperation is deeper – and Maduro’s options thinner.
So thin that Capriles felt emboldened on Wednesday to shout, "Leave already, Maduro! Wherever you go here, people hate you!"
And so goes The Mindless Marxist in His Labyrinth: Even if he holds on this time, he’ll likely face weeks like this again – even Semanas Santas like this again.