FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 5, 2019 - 12:00am

Things are not looking too bright for Nicolas Maduro, the caricature of a leader who took his oath of office for a second term as president of Venezuela.

He is deeply isolated. His country’s economy is crumbling. A tenth of his people have walked across the border to escape the chaos and the shortages. The Organization of American States (OAS), along with the US, refused to recognize his legitimacy. The European Union has called for new elections in the beleaguered country.

Both the OAS and the US recognized the leader of the opposition-controlled Venezuelan parliament, Juan Guaido, as the interim president. An ambassador and the air force general have defected from Maduro. Hundreds of thousands of malnourished Venezuelans are marching in the streets demanding that Maduro steps down.

Then, over the weekend, Donald Trump, that other caricature of a leader, announced that sending US troops to intervene in Venezuela remains a possibility. This should have sent a chill up Maduro’s spine.

In the nineties, US troops were sent over to Panama to dispose of a tyrant. Panamanians warmly welcomed the invading troops. The small Central American country, whose strategic significance lies entirely in its control of the Panama Canal, has been doing very well ever since.

Venezuela, of course, is a bigger country with a credible army. It is supported by Russia, China, Cuba and Nicaragua. The Russians and their puppets in Cuba may make threatening sounds, but no one seriously believes the demoralized Venezuelan armed forces will seriously resist the entry of US troops. Military intervention will likely be routine.

Once the richest country south of the US border, thanks to its ownership of the largest confirmed oil deposits in the world, Venezuela’s economy is now in shambles. Hugo Chavez’s comic book socialist policies, continued by his protégé Maduro, induced hyperinflation estimated to run to a million percent this year. Except for Maduro’s cronies, all Venezuelans are heavily malnourished.

Things will happen swiftly in this beleaguered country over the next few days.

With broad diplomatic support, Guaido has begun exercising his authority. He has designated collection points for international humanitarian assistance just outside Venezuela’s borders. International aid agencies are following his directives.

It is believed Guaido is feverishly negotiating with the leaders of the Venezuelan military to enable a peaceful transition of power. The National Assembly, which he leads, is the only credibly elected institution in the country. The judiciary has been coopted by Maduro, leading to the defection of one of the justices.

Washington will, understandably, want to pull the plug on what remains of the Maduro regime very soon. That will deny the Russians the time they need to fashion another way out of this crisis and establish a second foothold in the Americas. A quick resolution will definitely be better for the Venezuelan people.

With his world closing in, Maduro should sooner or later flee to exile, probably in friendly Havana. When that happens, this will mean the end of the comic book socialism foisted over Venezuela by a leftist party that imagined they could use the country’s vast oil wealth to rule without accountability.

The US, at the request of Guaido, has frozen all oil income due Venezuela to prevent it from being plundered by the collapsing Maduro clique.  An early resolution to the crisis will restore the availability of Venezuelan oil to the global market, helping ease the supply uncertainties that lately pushed prices back up.

That will be good for us, eventually.

Rallying point

Former Manila mayor Lito Atienza recounts that when architect David Hudson Burnham first sailed into Manila Bay over a century ago, he exclaimed this was the most beautiful shoreline he has seen. The bay was lined with white beaches and was, at that time, a lot more fragrant than it has ever been since. Those of us of a certain age remember the famous white beaches of Paranaque and Cavite.

Burnham is credited for designing both the City of Chicago and Washington DC. He is also credited with the first design for a skyscraper.  He was sent over to plan the City of Manila. In the course of his stay, he also designed the basic plan for Baguio City where the central park is named in his honor.

Two weekends ago, the multi-year effort to clean up the severely polluted bay commenced. The effort has since captured the public imagination.

 I visited the Baywalk stretch over the weekend. The place was full of people, some of them doing the truly hazardous thing of plunging into the water. The authorities should sternly warn them about the hazards of swimming in a coliform-infested body of water. It will take many years for the water to become safe and that will require a stubborn effort to clean up all the waterways shedding water into the bay.

When I was there, volunteer firefighters were training their hoses on the rocks along the shoreline in an effort to wash away the stench from all the trash that collected there. The sight made me proud. Not only will this be a multi-year, all-of-government effort, it will be one that rallies the support of private groups and citizen volunteers.

When Boracay was ordered closed last year, the usual suspects raised their usual shortsighted and small-minded howls, protesting the loss of jobs for workers there. The cleanup was a success. That inspired the thought the same could be done for the larger cesspool that is Manila Bay.

The effort has now become a rallying point.

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