Venezuela devaluated

Venezuelan strongman Nicolás Maduro is pushing his countrymen into a Castroite abyss of tyranny and impoverishment. Give up your freedom and Maduro will throw in immiseration too. It’s a left-wing package deal.

Simnon Romero and Girish Gupta don’t put it quite that way in their New York Times story this morning. The intelligent reader, however, may be able to draw his own conclusions: Let’s take it from the top:

For a glimpse into Venezuela’s economic disarray, slip into a travel agency here and book a round-trip flight to Maracaibo, on the other side of the country, for just $16. Need a book to read on the plane? For those with hard currency, a new copy of “50 Shades of Grey” goes for $2.50. Forget your toothpaste? A tube of Colgate costs 7 cents.

Quite the bargain, right?

But for the majority of Venezuelans who lack easy access to dollars, such surreal prices reflect a tremendous currency devaluation and a crumbling economy expected to contract 7 percent this year as oil income plunges and price controls produce acute shortages of items including milk, detergent and condoms.

“I’ve seen people die on the operating table because we didn’t have the basic tools for surgeries,” said Valentina Herrera, 35, a pediatrician at a public hospital in Maracay, a city near Caracas. She said she planned to look for other work because making ends meet on her salary of 5,622 bolívars a month — $33 at a new exchange rate unveiled recently — was impossible.

Faced with tumbling approval ratings as Venezuelans reel from the economic shock, President Nicolás Maduro is intensifying a crackdown on his opponents, reflected in last week’s arrest of Antonio Ledezma, the mayor of Caracas, and his indictment on charges of conspiracy and plotting an American-backed coup.

Mr. Maduro, a protégé of President Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013, has adopted an increasingly shrill tone against critics of Venezuela’s so-called Bolivarian Revolution. As evidence against Mr. Ledezma, Mr. Maduro pointed to an open letter this month calling for “a national agreement for a transition” that was signed by Mr. Ledezma; Leopoldo López, another opposition figure who has been imprisoned for the past year; and María Corina Machado, an opposition politician charged in December with plotting to assassinate Mr. Maduro.

“In Venezuela we are thwarting a coup supported and promoted from the north,” Mr. Maduro said over the weekend on Twitter. “The aggression of power from the United States is total and on a daily basis.”

Mr. Maduro is taking a page from Mr. Chávez, who was briefly ousted in a 2002 coup with the Bush administration’s tacit approval, then made attacking Washington and locking up people suspected of being putschists a fixture of his government. But the State Department has disputed Mr. Maduro’s claims, saying the United States is not promoting unrest in Venezuela.

At the same time, the move by Mr. Maduro points to a hardening in how opposition figures here are treated….

The whole thing — all of it must reading in a case study sort of way — is here.

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