It's Hell in Venezuela Right Now
Chaos and death dog the country
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 22, 2017 10:35 AM CDT
Protesters are silhouetted in clouds of tear gas launched by government security forces during clashes in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.   (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
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(Newser) – Five thousand. That's the number of man-portable air-defense systems—more conveniently known as MANPADS and able to down low-flying planes—Venezuela has obtained from Russia, according to a Reuters scoop published Monday. It's the largest stash of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles in Latin America, and while US officials are worried about them ending up in dubious hands, the idea of them being in government hands may not be much more palatable. "The situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate," CIA honcho Mike Pompeo told the Senate earlier this month. President Nicolas Maduro "gets more desperate by the hour." And many hours have passed since: The country on Saturday logged its 50th day of often-violent protests. What you need to know:

  • Saturday's demonstrations were grim: The BBC and Guardian report a 21-year-old was set on fire in Caracas, and all but 20% of his body was burned. He survived. There's some contention over whether he was a Maduro supporter, as the president himself claimed, or accused by the crowd of being a thief. The death toll associated with the protests stands at 48.
  • What do protesters want? A vote. The country has faced unrelenting food shortages, pervasive crime, and inflation that's believed to have exceeded 700% last year—almost twice that in South Sudan, reports the New York Times, which notes the 2014 murder rate was on par with the civilian casualty rate in 2004 Iraq. Many blame Maduro and want him out ahead of schedule: The next presidential election isn't until late 2018.
  • Why the situation is so ludicrous: A CBC analysis explains Venezuela is thought to have a crude-oil reserve of about 300 billion barrels: "Even at reduced current world prices, back-of-the-envelope calculations show that oil wealth alone should make all Venezuelan families US dollar millionaires."
  • But that oil has been a curse: At least, according to a Venezuelan political scientist quoted by the BBC. The country has put all its eggs in the oil basket, he argues, and that's produced an abject lack of investment, talent, and production outside the oil sector.
  • So what's Maduro's solution? Convening a special assembly to rewrite the country's 1999 constitution. The opposition isn't on board, but the AP reports Maduro on Friday said the effort would move forward.
  • It's not all Maduro said Friday: The Trump administration recently imposed sanctions on eight members of Venezuela's Supreme Court (the protests followed a late-March court ruling that wrested legislative power from the opposition-controlled assembly, though the court then backtracked), and President Trump himself called the situation a "disgrace to humanity." Maduro's reply to Trump: "Get your pig hands out of here!"

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