On a recent Sunday, volunteers were sitting under a red tarp in the capital’s shopping district burning up the phones – cajoling people to abandon their weekend plans and come out to “vote.” That there was nothing to vote for – that this was simply a drill, five weeks before the Dec. 6 legislative election – was one more sign about how much the ruling party has riding on the ballot. For the first time in more than a decade, all major polls show that the opposition is running far ahead in next month’s legislative races. Sixteen years of socialist rule, first by the late Hugo Chavez and now his successor Nicolas Maduro, have left the nation weary.
Signs of discontent abound: Shortages of basic goods – from diapers to deodorant to beans and bottled water – have spawned huge, sometimes angry, lines at grocery stores; runaway inflation, estimated in the triple digits, has evaporated purchasing power; newspapers virtually drip blood from all the reports of violence; and corruption scandals proliferate.
On Wednesday, the country was rattled by news that two of President Maduro’s nephews (including his godson) were detained in Haiti on charges that they were trying to smuggle 800 kilos of cocaine into the United States.