[President Hugo Chavez] threats against Colombia—which include a total trade embargo if Juan Manuel Santos, a former defence minister, wins this month’s presidential election—and the evidence of his veiled support for the FARC are troubling. They are a constant, if so far manageable, source of regional tension. And his efforts to build a block based on self-proclaimed “revolutions”, anti-Americanism and managed trade in the heart of democratic Latin America have served to undermine the very cause of regional integration that he claims to champion. But rhetoric aside, his influence in the region peaked a couple of years ago. He lost one ally, albeit in regrettable circumstances, when Honduras’s president, Manuel Zelaya, was overthrown last year. Several others are on the defensive.
Much more important is the damage Mr Chávez is doing to his own country. His “21st-century socialism” is a precarious construction. The brief fall in the oil price of 2008-09 was enough to sink Venezuela’s economy into stagflation—even as the rest of Latin America is enjoying vigorous economic recovery. Venezuelans are suffering declining real wages, persistent shortages of staple goods (meat is the latest to become scarce) and daily power cuts.
The blackouts are in part the result of drought. But they are also the most dramatic sign that the bill for a decade of mismanagement of the economy and of public services is now falling due (see article). There are plenty of other ugly portents. In one of the world’s biggest oil exporters hard currency is running short: to buy a dollar in the tolerated parallel market now requires almost twice as much local currency as the official exchange rate (and three times more than the privileged rate for “essential imports”). Investors rate the country’s debt as the riskiest of anywhere. Crime and corruption are flourishing.
Time to pay the piper Hugo