FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - February 23, 2019 - 12:00am

From the land that enriched world literature with the genre of magical realism, a situation is quickly unfolding that puts the best fiction to shame. A regime is about to be deposed by means of a pop concert and deliveries of humanitarian aid.

As you read this, a concert is going on at the Colombian side of Tienditas Bridge near the town of Cucuta. Organized by British businessman Sir Richard Branson, Venezuela Aid Live is intended to call global attention to the humanitarian catastrophe inflicted by the leftist Maduro regime on its own people. It also seeks to raise funds to buy food and medicine to help Venezuela’s starving people.

In an effort to overshadow the event, Nicolas Maduro organized his own concert on the Venezuelan side of the bridge, just 300 meters away. The “official” concert intends to drown out not just the music of volunteer artists from all over the world but also the din of international condemnation for the tyranny that grips the once prosperous Venezuela.

Last week, as food and medicine stockpiles built up along the border with Colombia and Brazil, Maduro deployed the military to shut down all the crossings. The humanitarian assistance came from the US, Canada, Germany, Brazil and several other nations.

What sort of leader would stop the flow of humanitarian assistance intended to rescue a distressed people?

In a most perverse move, Maduro ordered the delivery of food and medicine packets to the border with Colombia. He justified this move because “Venezuelans are not beggars.” At the same time, he announced assistance from Russia was on its way. If he had such ample supply of direly needed goods, Maduro should have distributed them in the communities were malnutrition now runs rampant.

Meanwhile, the leaders of the opposition-led National Assembly, an institution Maduro has disempowered, organized a large caravan to retrieve the humanitarian aid accumulating on the borders. The receipt of humanitarian aid has now become a mass movement.

Over the last year, as the Maduro regime violently suppressed the opposition to entrench itself in power, three million Venezuelans have fled across the border to escape the shortages at home. With the domestic inflation rate expected to hit a million percent this year, supplies of every necessity is quickly running short in Venezuela.

The shortages could only worsen as international sanctions take their toll. The sanctions were imposed after Maduro proclaimed himself president for another term as a result of elections where the opposition was kept from participating in.

The Organization of American States, the European Union, the US and Canada have refused to recognize the Maduro government. Instead, they recognize the leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido as acting head of state.

In the Western Hemisphere, only Nicaragua and Cuba recognize the Maduro government. Venezuelan diplomats abroad and some military officers have defected. The defections are expected to increase sharply as the crisis deepens.

For its own strategic concerns over maintaining a toehold in the Americas, Russia has allied with the Maduro regime. But there is little Russia can do, considering its GDP is smaller than Sweden’s, to reverse Venezuela’s descent into chaos.

Venezuela was once the richest economy south of the US border. Its wealth derives from the country having the largest confirmed oil reserves in the world.

When oil prices dropped sharply two years ago, a fiscal crisis gripped Venezuela. The regime bought popular support by subsidizing everything in sight. In exchange they delivered tyranny. We saw this phenomenon happen in other resource-rich countries such as Libya under Kaddafi and Iraq under Hussein.

With the new sanctions in place, Venezuela will not be able to realize its revenues from oil sales. The income will be held in escrow until a more accountable, or at least saner, government is in place at Caracas.

This crisis will not end until Maduro steps down and goes into exile in Havana. All the nations that matter to Venezuela’s survival have drawn the line.

Without access to his country’s oil revenues, Maduro has no means to turn back a conflated economic crisis and a crisis of legitimacy. All he can do now is to deliver his rote anti-imperialist speeches. But speeches never saved a regime beset by its own anachronisms.

Meanwhile, he holds his people hostage, preventing them from receiving the emergency relief they need. He is in denial about their very real suffering. This is how dysfunctional regimes end.

Alarmed by what is happening to his ideological fellow travellers in Venezuela, Nicaragua’s “socialist” leader Daniel Ortega has called for negotiations with leaders of the opposition. This is a significant shift in tactics. Over the past couple of years, Ortega has unleashed a brutal campaign of terror and intimidation to quell growing public resistance to his regime’s archaic policies.

It is unlikely this new tack will gain any traction. Like his comrade Maduro, Nicaraguans have rejected Ortega. The socialist wonderland these two men promised their people is now in shambles. With even less natural resource endowments than Venezuela, the Ortega regime has even less means to reverse a deepening economic crisis.

If Maduro goes, Ortega will soon follow. Both represent a vision of the future that has proven to be a hoax.

There is a cautionary tale here for socialist stragglers everywhere. Stop promising the poor boundless subsidies in exchange for their political support. What does not work according to the principles of economic science will never become viable. They can only produce unaccountable regimes.

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