You can add another name to the list of foreign leaders who are currently running rings around the Biden administration. This time it’s an old fan favorite of this site, Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro. As you may recall, Maduro seized power after Hugo Chavez died more than ten years ago. He immediately began a socialist crackdown against his political opponents and started running his country’s economy into the ground. Following the last failed attempt at elections, he was no longer even recognized as Venezuela’s president by many nations, including the United States under Donald Trump. The country was also under many sanctions. But last year, Maduro made a show of signing an agreement promising free presidential elections this year. Joe Biden immediately lifted sanctions on Venezuela and applauded the “progress.” But now there are no signs of any upcoming elections and Maduro has blocked his primary opponent from the ballot for more than a decade. Thus far, the Biden administration has only described this as a “difficult moment.” (Wall Street Journal)
The world is full of surprises, but not in Venezuela. The country’s declaration Friday that popular opposition leader Maria Corina Machado can’t run for president was predictable to everyone except the Biden Administration.
Nicolás Maduro, a dictator who took office when Hugo Chávez died in 2013, is supposed to face an election this year. Ms. Machado, who won the opposition’s primary in October with some 90% of the vote, would be a heavy favorite in a fair election given the way Mr. Maduro has destroyed the economy. Which is why the government is blocking her run this year and for the next 15 years.
In October the Maduro government and the opposition signed the Barbados Agreement, a pledge to work toward a free presidential election. The dictatorship made no concessions, but the Biden Administration immediately lifted Trump-era oil and gas sanctions for six months.
As the WSJ editorial board points out, everyone saw this coming except the Biden administration. This is exactly how Maduro has operated ever since he took power. He replaced the country’s entire Supreme Court with his own hand-picked stooges who uphold each decree he makes, providing his office with the veneer of democratic processes while he rules as a dictator. Signing the Barbados Agreement was nothing but a ploy to get some sanctions relief, and it clearly worked.
This represented another chance for Joe Biden to undo some of Donald Trump’s policies and he jumped at the opportunity. Maduro laughed all the way to the bank and proceeded to start working to block Maria Corina Machado from being able to run against him. He succeeded in that effort as well, and she’ll be fortunate if she doesn’t wind up in prison as many of Maduro’s other critics have.
The reality is that Maduro has only further solidified his position over the past few years since he signed up to become an unofficial member of the New Axis of Evil. He hosts Russian military units in his country and they help him keep the population in line when required. He also has Chinese diplomats and emissaries as guests on a regular basis. In exchange for their help, Russia has been able to buy out a significant portion of Venezuela’s oil production operations and China engages them in trade in violation of international sanctions. It’s a win-win for everyone except the rank-and-file Venezuelan citizens who are not among the politically favored Maduro supporters.
It’s not clear if Maduro will wind up skipping even the pretense of an election this year. If not, any sort of election that is staged will almost certainly be nothing more than a sham. When a tyrant like Nicolas Maduro seizes power, they don’t let go of it until someone finds a way to drag them away kicking and screaming or simply killing them. Neither appears likely in the near future in Venezuela.