BOGOTA — Venezuela is in crisis — a tremendous one. Food and basic drugs are in short supply. The annual murder rate has reached 79 per 100,000 inhabitants, one of the highest in the world and a cold figure that covers a multitude of personal tragedies. Inflation is expected to reach a rate of over 70% by the end of this year, robbing the poor of their earnings, though they can always hope the government will allow them to ransack stores, as it has in the past.
In any case, a television cannot replace food. Any doubts about the gravity of the situation can be dispelled by the socialist regime's own admission that poverty is growing, despite the $1 trillion it has earned from selling oil over the last 15 years. They must be saving at least some of this petro fortune, right? Wrong.
No, Venezuela is "unsaving" — increasingly pre-selling oil, especially to China, and swelling public debt in the process. Under pressure, the government is hastily squandering its Citgo refineries and gas stations, ludicrously depriving itself of assured outlets for its heavy crude.
The separation of powers disappeared long ago, turning Venezuelan democracy into a hollow shell. The show trial given to political opposition leader Leopoldo López, now jailed, violated each and every one of his rights to a fair prosecution. The public purse is being ransacked while drug trafficking flourishes. It brings to mind Colombian drug lord Carlos Lehder, who used to corrupt the region from the Bahamas.
Video: Jamie Bayly interviews Leopoldo López on MegaTV on July 9, 2013
Unfortunately, the repeatedly battered opposition has made mistakes. The "intransigent" faction was betting on President Nicolas Maduro"s downfall, and because he remains standing, there is an impression that he is somehow stronger for having survived his tug-of-war with opponents. María Corina Machado, the conservative parliamentarian sacked from her seat, is among those proposing a constituent assembly, which would be tantamount to the regime's capitulation. Another, equally improbable idea is that a sector of the armed forces could overthrow the president. Nobody should hold their breath.
Few in the opposition seem to understand that it is better for the Chavista movement itself to initiate changes when it no longer knows where to go next. If Maduro were to resign tomorrow, and López and his ally Henrique Capriles took over, they would have to deal with a veritable debacle on all fronts. They would be forced to take draconian measures, and their government could easily fail. It would cause a cycle of crises and emergencies not unlike those that prompted the disorderly demise of Argentina's tottering democracy in the 1970s. A large part of the opposition is in any case moving away from the political center, toward political suicide, should they stay the course.
Maduro is implementing a version of the Cuban model whose force should not be underestimated. He has gradually liquidated the independent media, the last victim being the newspaper El Universal. The only critical national daily left is El Nacional, though without enough paper. Information is still available on the Internet, but that's not where most Venezuelan voters seek it.
The last factor feeding a growing pessimism is that people backing the regime appear to have become used to crises. The lies, thievery, shortages and official incompetence. Initial outrage is followed by resignation.
Right now, it's very difficult to feel optimistic about Venezuela.
Russia has decided to cut off relations with the Western military alliance. But Moscow says it was NATO who really wanted the break based on its own internal rationale.
MOSCOW — The Russian Foreign Ministry's announcement that the country's permanent representation to NATO would be shut down for an indefinite period is a major development. But from Moscow's viewpoint, there was little alternative
These measures were taken in response to the decision of NATO on Oct. 6 to cut the number of personnel allowed in the Russian mission to the Western alliance by half. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the removal of accreditations was from eight employees of the Russian mission to NATO who were identified as undeclared employees of Russian intelligence." We have seen an increase in Russian malicious activity for some time now," Stoltenberg said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry called NATO's expulsion of Russian personnel a "ridiculous stunt," and Stoltenberg's words "the truest hypocrisy."
In announcing the complete shutdown in diplomacy between Moscow and NATO, the Russian Foreign Ministry added: "The 'Russian threat' is being hyped in strengthen the alliance's internal unity and create the appearance of its 'relevance' in modern geopolitical conditions."
The number of Russian diplomatic missions in Brussels has been reduced twice unilaterally by NATO in 2015 and 2018 - after the alliance's decision of April 1, 2014 to suspend all practical civilian and military cooperation between Russia and NATO in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea. Diplomats' access to the alliance headquarters and communications with its international secretariat was restricted, military contacts have frozen.
Yet the new closure of all diplomatic contacts is a perilous new low. Kommersant sources said that the changes will affect the military liaison mission of the North Atlantic alliance in Moscow, aimed at promoting the expansion of the dialogue between Russia and NATO. However, in recent years there has been no de facto cooperation. And now, as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has announced, the activities of the military liaison mission will be suspended. The accreditation of its personnel will be canceled on November 1.
NATO told RIA Novosti news service on Monday that it regretted Moscow's move. Meanwhile, among Western countries, Germany was the first to respond. "It would complicate the already difficult situation in which we are now and prolong the "ice age," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters.
"Lavrov said on Monday, commenting on the present and future of relations between Moscow and the North Atlantic Alliance, "If this is the case, then we see no great need to continue pretending that any changes will be possible in the foreseeable future because NATO has already announced that such changes are impossible.
The suspension of activities of the Russian Permanent Mission to NATO, as well as the military liaison and information mission in Russia, means that Moscow and Brussels have decided to "draw a final line under the partnership relations of previous decades," explained Andrei Kortunov, director-general of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, "These relations began to form in the 1990s, opening channels for cooperation between the sides … but they have continued to steadily deteriorate over recent years."
Kortunov believes the current rupture was promoted by Brussels. "A new strategy for NATO is being prepared, which will be adopted at the next summit of the alliance, and the previous partnership with Russia does not fit into its concept anymore."
The existence and expansion of NATO after the end of the Cold War was the main reason for the destruction of the whole complex of relations between Russia and the West. Today, Russia is paying particular attention to marking red lines related to the further steps of Ukraine's integration into NATO. Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov previously stated this, warning that in response to the alliance's activity in the Ukrainian direction, Moscow would take "active steps" to ensure its security.
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