Last night, I floated on Twitter a question about how many long Nicolás Maduro can blame Venezuela’s troubles on an economic war waged against him before his supporters come to believe that he’s too weak to succeed in winning it. Obviously this question rests heavily on the assumption that there are a good number of Maduro supporters who believe that Venezuela really is the victim of some sort of vast conspiracy, and not just the predicatble consequences of poor policy decisions over the past 15 years. Recent surveys, however, indicate that one in five Venezuelans still supports Maduro and reporters have to problem finding people to interview in the now-ubiquitous grocery store lines who at least claim to believe his claims, so there is at least a bit of a constituency.
The threat in this propaganda line for Maduro isn’t really in the opposition so much as within the chavista coalition. Few people who support the opposition are likely to believe that the problem is anything other than the government anyway. However, things are different among chavistas who continue to believe that chavismo is a path to prosperity. For these people, the country’s continued economic malaise might not demonstrate the failure of the model so much as show that Maduro is too weak to protect the gains brought by Hugo Chávez. This is exacerbated by the fact that the policies Maduro has selected to fight the economic war–currency and price controls, taking over producers and distributors, etc–will mostly only contribute to the problem, whatever positive optics they might give. If anything, those positive optics (fighting contraband on the border, taking over stores, seizing “hoarded” inventories) might simply cast into starker relief how little those efforts are doing to alleviate the shortages and inflation wracking the Venezuelan economy right now.
So what happens if the loyal chavista base decides that Maduro is too weak to win the war he says he’s fighting? The conspiracy-minded might say that this is the machiavellian plan of some high ranking officials who have allowed–or even encouraged–Maduro to founder while enriching themselves off the distortions, only to swoop in and save the day once the situation starts to risk chavismo’s hold on power. Whether that’s someone’s plan or not, any clear-eyed people close to Maduro must be concerned about what happens if the chavista base ends up in the streets protesting. Considering how openly authoritarian the government has become in recent times, it seems difficult to believe that the opposition would be able to end up in power, at least immediately.