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"Let Them Come For Me!" Maduro Defiant As Thousands Protest In Venezuela

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Some Venezuelans aren’t happy with Nicolas Maduro, and it’s easy to see why.

 

Inflation in the socialist paradise is projected to run at a mind boggling 720% this year after topping 200% in 2015. Long queues are common at grocery stores, where the country’s beleaguered citizens wait in hopes of grabbing the last of increasingly scarce basic staples like rice and, famously, toilet paper. According to a trade group of drug stores, 90% of medicines are now scarce.

 

As we documented last month, the acute economic crisis - Venezuela is the worst performing economy in the world - is the result of years of disastrous policies pursued by the socialist government which has pushed out private industry and badly mismanaged the country’s oil wealth. Default is now virtually assured, as 90% of crude revenue needs to be diverted to debt payments. Thanks to rising imports and falling oil sales, the CA deficit has worsened, forcing Caracas to liquidate assets to fund a budget deficit that's projected to hover near 20% of GDP for the foreseeable future.

 

The economic malaise has fueled a political crisis. Last month, Maduro used a Supreme Court stacked with allies to push through a decree granting the presidency “emergency powers.” Opposition lawmakers - who, you’re reminded, in December won 99 of 167 seats that were up for grabs in what amounted to the worst defeat in history for Hugo Chavez’s leftist movement - were livid and decided to accelerate plans to remove to the hapless leader.

 

Those plans will include a recall referendum and an amendment aimed at reducing the length of the President’s term. Oh, and those plans also include inciting mass protests.

 

“Venezuela's opposition held a national day of protest Saturday, the opening salvo in its new strategy to oust President Nicolas Maduro, who responded with a rally of his own,” AFP reports. “With shouts of ‘Resign now!’ thousands of Venezuelans demonstrated against Maduro in northeast Caracas, as the socialist president gathered thousands of his own red-clad supporters in the center of the capital to chants of ‘Maduro won't go!’"

 

As AFP goes on to note, it’s a small miracle no one was killed considering the tension and what happened in 2014 when anti-government protests left dozens dead. Here are the visuals from the capital:

 

 

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"Venezuela is in chaos ... more misery, more crime and more destruction," one law student among opposition supporters told Reuters. "I came because what we want is change, because we cannot continue standing in line to buy medicine, food, for everything, for car parts, for everything," another demonstrator said.

 

Maduro was predictably defiant, giving a "thundering" speech to supporters at what he called an "anti-imperialist rally." "Let them come for me. Nobody's giving up here!" he said. "I imagine him in Miraflores (presidential palace.) My God, save us from that! There'd be a national insurrection a week later," he added, referencing opposition leader Henry Ramos.

 

Of course there's already a "national insurrection" - and he's the target.

 

"My opponents," Maduro boomed, "have gone crazy [and I will] hang on to power until the final day." Here's an amusing picture from the speech:

 

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Although some in the opposition crowds said they were "expecting more people," you can bet the groundswell of support for the anti-Maduro movement will only grow - especially now that a majority of lawmakers want to President gone.

 

There's only so long the populace is going to tolerate inflation that appears as though it may eventually top 1,000% and without higher oil prices, the country's reserves (along with its gold) will be gone in a matter of months. A desperate attempt on Energy Minister Eulogio Del Pino's part to convince fellow OPEC members to come to an agreement on lifting prices was a miserable failure last month and as documented earlier today, Iran isn't about to budge.

 

Perhaps it will take a sovereign default for the parts of the population who still buy Maduro's "blame the imperialists" rhetoric to finally wake up, but make no mistake, Maduro's pledge to "hang to power until the final day" will be put to the test in relatively short order. Whether or not that test comes from lawmakers or angry, torch-waving Venezuelans demanding toilet paper remains to be seen.

 

 

 

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