If the Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was your sole source of news, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Obama Administration is engaged in a reckless campaign to unseat each of America’s adversaries around the world. At a time when everyone else is pondering the historic reversal of American power that the Syrian debacle represents, in Maduro’s fevered imagination the Obama administration remains, as he put it last May, “the grand chief of devils.”
The penchant of Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, for conspiracy theories was legendary. Having received his political education from Norberto Ceresole, a Holocaust denier who drew liberally from both Marxism and fascism, Chavez was quick to point out Jewish plots lurking around every corner. Yet, by Maduro’s current standards, even Chavez was comparatively restrained.
Almost as soon as Chavez handpicked Maduro as his successor, the conspiracy accusations began mounting thick and fast. When Chavez died from cancer in a Cuban hospital in March this year, Maduro claimed that he had been poisoned by the CIA. Then, as a presidential election campaign unfolded, Maduro accused the CIA of trying to kill his rival, Henrique Capriles, in order to stage the conditions for a military coup.
Now, as Ezequiel Minaya and William Neuman report in the Wall Street Journal and New York Times respectively, virtually every obstacle Venezuela faces is explained away as an American plot. A lack of basic goods, like cooking oil or toilet paper? According to Maduro, that’s because of a motley coalition of unscrupulous storeowners, and power-hungry opposition politicians have engineered these shortages in concert with the CIA. The power outage that last week left more than 70 percent of Venezuela without electricity? That would be the CIA again, this time willfully attempting to destroy Venezuela’s infrastructure. The 2012 explosion at the Amuay oil refinery that killed more than 41 people? Needless to say, Maduro has ignored the numerous reports that placed the blame for the disaster on government mismanagement and corruption, citing “sabotage” instead.
There is more: in a television address last weekend, Maduro asserted that the United States is preparing for the “total collapse” of Venezuela this coming October via a secret plan named–with appropriate subtlety–”Total Collapse.” And after Venezuela’s security forces uncovered an alleged Colombian plot to assassinate the president, a straight-faced Maduro unveiled yet another plot, this time “to eliminate me simultaneously with the attack on Syria.”
Plenty of madness, to be sure, but what of Maduro’s method? Opinion polls conducted in Venezuela over the last few months demonstrate that Maduro sorely lacks Chavez’s ability to win the trust of Venezuelans in even the most trying of circumstances. The country remains where it was during the election last April; heavily polarized, with Maduro’s personal disapproval ratings regularly approaching, or even exceeding, 50 percent of the electorate.
It is the April election, and specifically the opposition’s charge that Maduro’s wafer-thin victory was rigged, that continues to weigh heavily on the minds of Venezuelans. Significantly, rather than countering the opposition’s accusations with evidence that the poll was honest, Maduro’s strategy is to repeat his claims of CIA interference with sufficient frequency for people to believe him.
Capriles and the opposition, however, will not go away. On Monday, Jose Ramon Medina, an aide to Capriles, filed a request with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR,) a subsidiary body of the Organization of American States, to declare the April election void. The following day, Maduro announced that he was carrying out one of Chavez’s last wishes by withdrawing from the IACHR system, which he lambasted as “a tool to protect U.S. geopolitical interests” and “harass progressive governments.”
While no one would pretend that the IACHR is capable of restraining Maduro’s worst instincts, Venezuela’s departure is yet another sign that the post-Chavez regime is sliding into a more traditional form of dictatorship. By removing this layer of international oversight, Maduro is ensuring that he has to answer only to those bodies, like the Venezuelan National Assembly and National Electoral Council, that already uncritically accept his authority.
Already, Capriles has pointed out that the abrupt withdrawal from the IACHR is very probably illegal, since Venezuela’s constitution makes explicit mention of the international bodies and human-rights treaties the country is party to. But that is unlikely to bother Maduro, who can garner a good deal of comfort from the fact that while he sees conspiracies everywhere, he is, for the moment at least, not going to become the victim of one.