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Venezuela, Constitutional Dictatorship Or Drug-Gang Regime?

Venezuela's socialist President Nicolás Maduro has brought his country to the lowest socio-economic levels in its history. His clinging to power is a dangerous thing.

Opposition protest in Caracas, Venezuela
Opposition protest in Caracas, Venezuela


Santiago de León Caracas, or "Caracas' as the capital of Venezuela is known to most, is the city with the third worst quality of life in Latin America. A 2016 report by the Mercer consulting firm found only Havana and Port au Prince to be worse places to live in from a list of 123 cities across the region, based on criteria that include socio-economic levels, transport, schools and crime. It's a new low for Caracas, which has been steadily dropping in the list over the past few years.

Meanwhile, a new report on nutrition on the website Prodavinci finds that Venezuelans have been eating less and less since 2013. It cited figures by the government statistics agency INE to show that through the second half of 2013 and the first half of 2014, households cut their intake of 57 out of 62 listed food items. INE found that between 2013 and 2015, the number of Venezuelans who ate more than three times a day fell from just over 14 million to just under 12 million, with a corresponding rise in people eating less than three meals a day.

Venezuela is experiencing the worst economic collapse in the modern history of Latin America. All Venezuelans able to migrate seem to have done so, and the country finds itself with a severe dearth of qualified technicians and professionals. The late President Hugo Chávez dismantled the country's productive apparatus, focusing instead on the production and export of oil, while importing virtually everything else.

In Caracas, Venezuela — Photo: Joka Madruga/Terra Livre Press/ComunicaSul

Infrastructure has deteriorated to the point where power and water shortages and damaged roads are the norm now. Schools and offices open two or three days a week, and life in a Venezuelan city has become a daily misery consisting of trying to buy food, avoiding muggers and learning to live without reliable electricity or tap water. With pharmaceutical shortages, people have turned to home remedies. Inflation is fluttering at three-digit heights, and childbirth and infant mortality are on the rise.

Others qualify it more plainly as a drug gang in power.

All this explains why 70% of Venezuelans disapprove of President Nicolás Maduro. The government may insist it is doing fine, but who could dispute that it is time for Maduro to step down and put an early end to his "working-class presidency?" The government's political record seems as bad as its economics. The civil rights group Foro Penal observes a sharp rise in arbitrary arrests since Maduro was elected. While Chávez was happy with "just 113" political prisoners, Maduro has locked up 310, which Foro Penal divides into three categories: "those jailed to get them out of the political game," like conservative politician Leopoldo López and former mayor of Caracas Antonio Ledezma; "those in a particular social group," like student activists; and "propaganda detainees' held to "justify a particular measure."

Maduro is a duly elected president, but his own government violated the Venezuelans' right to vote in October 2016, when it suspended elections for mayors and state governors. They were suspended because regime candidates were set to lose, and no regime that does that can call itself democratic. By blocking the vote, Maduro acted as a dictator would.

Photo: Joka Madruga/TerraLivrePress.com

Indeed, there was a whiff of the dictator about him as soon as he took office exactly four years ago, with his predecessor's blessing. His first step was to meddle with the judiciary, as his mentor Chávez had begun to do, by naming loyal judges. That came in handy after the opposition won an overwhelming majority of seats in parliament, as the courts began to issue verdicts undermining, if not nullifying, the powers of the legislature. Maduro had the judiciary approve the state budget for 2017, which parliament had lawfully rejected, and his nominee as Central Bank chief.

Some are increasingly calling this presidency a "constitutional dictatorship," while others qualify it more plainly as a drug gang in power. The arrests in Miami of the president's two godsons Efraín Campo and Francisco Flores was at least a pointer to the regime's alleged drug-related shenanigans. They were said to be linked to the so-called "Suns cartel," a trafficking gang supposedly run by Venezuelan generals.

The United States is now accusing Maduro's first Vice-President Tareck El Aissami of being a drug kingpin and has frozen his monies in the United States, which shows an increasingly clear policy by the Trump administration to confront the regime and back the opposition. The secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has proposed suspending Venezuela from the OAS until proper democracy is restored, and called for presidential elections scheduled for 2018 to be forwarded to this year.

We agree with Almagro. We believe Venezuela cannot take any more of the Maduro regime. The time has come for other Latin American governments to demand free, and immediate, general elections in Venezuela.

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In Northern Kenya, Where Climate Change Is Measured In Starving Children

The worst drought in 40 years, which has deepened from the effects of climate change, is hitting the young the hardest around the Horn of Africa. A close-up look at the victims, and attempts to save lives and limit lasting effects on an already fragile region in Kenya.

Photo of five mothers holding their malnourished children

At feeding time, nurses and aides encourage mothers to socialize their children and stimulate them to eat.

Georgina Gustin

KAKUMA — The words "Stabilization Ward" are painted in uneven black letters above the entrance, but everyone in this massive refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, calls it ya maziwa: The place of milk.

Rescue workers and doctors, mothers and fathers, have carried hundreds of starving children through the doors of this one-room hospital wing, which is sometimes so crowded that babies and toddlers have to share beds. A pediatric unit is only a few steps away, but malnourished children don’t go there. They need special care, and even that doesn’t always save them.

In an office of the International Rescue Committee nearby, Vincent Opinya sits behind a desk with figures on dry-erase boards and a map of the camp on the walls around him. “We’ve lost 45 children this year due to malnutrition,” he says, juggling emergencies, phone calls, and texts. “We’re seeing a significant increase in malnutrition cases as a result of the drought — the worst we’ve faced in 40 years.”

From January to June, the ward experienced an 800 percent rise in admissions of children under 5 who needed treatment for malnourishment — a surge that aid groups blame mostly on a climate change-fueled drought that has turned the region into a parched barren.

Opinya, the nutrition manager for the IRC here, has had to rattle off these statistics many times, but the reality of the numbers is starting to crack his professional armor. “It’s a very sad situation,” he says, wearily. And he believes it will only get worse. A third year of drought is likely on the way.

More children may die. But millions will survive malnutrition and hunger only to live through a compromised future, researchers say. The longer-term health effects of this drought — weakened immune systems, developmental problems — will persist for a generation or more, with consequences that will cascade into communities and societies for decades.

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