Austin Bay
Despite five years of Obama Administration "smart diplomacy," Venezuela's deteriorating socialist regime is following a classic script as its replacement caudillo blames America for his own regime's legacy of economic folly, domestic repression, corruption and criminal turpitude.

That America should continue to serve as a gangster clique's scapegoat ought to surprise no one except the gullible frumps who thought Barack Obama's presidency would reset relations with Russia, reduce the cost of health insurance and end the ocean's rise. For over 200 years, "blame America" has been the baseline propaganda ploy of dictators and corrupt oligarchs confronting the impoverishing consequences of looting their own countries and brutalizing political opponents.

When compared to his flamboyant predecessor, Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's replacement president, Nicolas Maduro, is a second-rate caudillo and fourth-string media operative.

Chavez, who died of cancer in March 2013, began his career as a paratrooper. Maduro, who won a disputed election in April 2013, is a bus driver turned union organizer turned Chavez toady, then successor. Union toughs can earn hard-boy reputations (a resume' essential for caudillos), but jumping out of airplanes is automatically macho.

Still, Chavez picked Maduro as his heir for a reason. The second-stringer possesses two of his mentor's talents: He's a first-rate goon and relentless America-hater.

Brutal police and blaming America won't reduce inflation (Venezuela's is currently a whopping 56 percent a year) but they can help keep the caudillo's gang in power. Chavez, like his fellow America-blamer, Fidel Castro, both had the Mussolini knack for combining aggressive macho with charismatic spectacle. The political pay-offs for their regimes were, respectively, the Chavismo and Fidelismo personality cults.

Maduro has tried to leverage Chavez' cult by claiming kudos from the deceased strong man. Chavez appears to Maduro as a bird. Parachutist wings?

Maduro does know how to employ brutal secret policemen. This Tuesday, Feb. 18, cops and soldiers arrested Maduro's main political opponent Leopoldo Lopez. A former mayor of a Caracas suburb, Lopez is a graduate of two U.S. colleges, Kenyon and Harvard. He has the media presence of Mexico's President, Enrique Pena -- the same sophisticated charm.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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