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.