Shannon O’Niel, a Latin American specialist with the Council on Foreign Affairs, has a new article (here) in Foreign Policy that discusses how Venezuela under Chavez has become the murder capital of the Western Hemisphere. Venezuela has seen its share of violence over the last few decades, but think that its murder rate it higher than Mexico’s in the midst of its current war against the drug cartels; Colombia in the shifting sands of its fifth decade of civil war; and Guatemala’s feeble attempts to reel in its gangs and common delinquency to the point where it is more and more being considered a failed state – is sad commentary on the current state of affairs.
The dramatic drop in oil prices over the last year has had severe effects on the Venezuelan economy. The Economist comments (here) on the fact that Chavez is running low on money to fund his Bolivarian Revolution with its deficit running as high as 9% in 2009; Forbes weights in (here) on the tightening of restrictions around remittances and spending US dollars abroad on credit cards. All of which should come as little surprise, since Venezuela’s economy depends so heavily on oil prices. Furthermore, the country has had the highest inflation in the Western Hemisphere for the last year, which has only increased tensions and suffering for the poor in Venezuela.
Chavez has continued to tighten his grip on the military and every major institution in the country, which has only intensified the resistance of his critics. If the economy doesn’t improve before the next set of elections in 2013 it might not matter how much he alters the constitution – he very well may be voted out of office. Only time will tell.