Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains.Nicolás Maduro’s stint as president of Venezuela has had Shakespearean overtones from the start. Ascending to power in 2013 he claimed to have conferred with the ghost of Hugo Chávez, insisting the cancer that killed his predecessor — whom he calls “father” — was a case of CIA murder most foul. Our revolutionary Hamlet is now a tropical Macbeth. Reviled by his subjects and increasingly isolated, he paces the presidential stage declaiming defiant soliloquies against offstage enemies.
While he plays dramatically for time, Venezuela is collapsing. The International Monetary Fund predicts an 8 per cent economic contraction for 2016; the inflation rate is the fastest in the world; electricity and running water are luxuries. Food and medicine are scarce. Anaemic oil prices and a heavy debt load leave scant foreign exchange for the import sector. Mr Maduro is loath to reverse unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies he inherited from his mentor or to accept help from outside. It grows harder to tell if he is merely clinging to power at any cost or actively scuttling his country. Having declared a state of emergency, Mr Maduro has been visiting island neighbours this week. Ostensibly seeking to raise cash, he will also be hoping to shore up friendly votes in case the Organization of American States tries to take action against his repression at home. While abroad he would do well to monitor property prices: given the billions of petrodollars that have disappeared during his time in office, and the worsening conditions suffered by his people, a Venezuelan retirement may not be an option.