Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s acting president and the handpicked protegé of Hugo Chavez, learned at least one lesson from the master of bluster who died March 5: When in doubt, blame the United States.
Crowds took to the streets in protest after the announcement of Maduro’s narrow victory in Sunday’s election: 51 percent to 49 percent, a 262,000 vote lead out of 14 million votes cast. Even so, the Chavez-dominated electoral council quickly anointed Maduro the winner of an election from which international observers had been barred.
The Venezuelan government said seven people were killed and 61 injured in the protests, which the people then carried on in a louder but more peaceful way by taking to their balconies several times a day to beat on pots and pans.
Maduro seemed at a loss of how to respond to the protests, which put the legitimacy of his presidency in question. His explanation, which no one apparently bought, was that the U.S. embassy has been “financing and leading all the violent acts” being carried out by neo-Nazi groups.
In the space of two weeks, Maduro squandered a double-digit lead badly enough that his opponent, Henrique Capriles, demanded a ballot-by-ballot recount. That demand was echoed by the United States, the Organization of American States and the European Union. The U.S. said it would not accept any results as valid until there was a full recount.
Venezuela is so oil-rich it should be an easy country to govern. But years of mismanagement and ill-advised “Bolivarian” socialist experiments have produced anemic economic growth, high inflation, critical food shortages due to price controls, pervasive and demoralizing corruption and rampant crime.
Maduro’s ability to cope with these problems does not inspire confidence. He has the added problem of a country full of Cuban agents who are determined to see that Venezuela keeps supplying cut-rate oil, as it did under Chavez.
Maduro should order a recount under international supervision. If he wins, he will be recognized and dealt with as a legitimate president. If he loses, it will be an honorable loss. In either case, Maduro will come out as a patriot.