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The parallels between the political convulsions consuming Ukraine and the protests in Venezuela are striking. In recent weeks, even as both countries have seen people take to the streets, the governments have embraced repressive tactics to subdue protesters, and the opposition movements have become increasingly radicalised. Both teeter on the verge of economic disaster, and the ouroboros of protest and crackdown continues to fuel rage at promises unkept, with Ukraine throwing out its leader, Viktor Yanukovych. Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is struggling to harness the charisma of his predecessor to retain control as the biggest protests the country has seen in a decade sweep across its towns and cities.
The student-led demonstrations in Venezuela began as a demand for better security, after a freshman in a college town was sexually assaulted. The government’s heavy-handed response provoked anger, which snowballed into a wider challenge to its authority. Maduro — who, despite advantages in money, media and institutional influence, managed only a wafer-thin victory over opposition leader Henrique Capriles — is weaker than Hugo Chavez and unloved even within his own party. He has predictably accused the US of fomenting a coup aided by unspecified “fascists” and Leopoldo Lopez, a popular radical opposition leader, whom he has since had arrested.
At every step, the government response to the spiralling public discontent has followed an authoritarian script. Maduro has gagged the media and sent in the military in Tachira, where the unrest originated. Political prisoners are being tortured, and at least 13 have died. If Venezuela is to be spared further chaos, Maduro must realise that the pursuit of Chavismo is bankrupting the nation. In the country with the world’s largest oil reserves, the revolution is running on fumes.