In delivering one of the most bellicose addresses ever heard at the United Nations General Assembly on September 19, President Donald Trump got at least one thing right: his description of Venezuela. The corrupt dictatorship of President Nicolás Maduro, he declared, “has brought a once thriving nation to the brink of total collapse … Maduro has defied his own people, stealing power from their elected representatives to preserve his disastrous rule. … The Venezuelan people are starving and their country is collapsing. Their democratic institutions are being destroyed.” Trump also said that “we cannot stand by and watch,” before calling for “the full restoration of democracy and political freedoms in Venezuela.”
Yet Trump offered no plan for action. A few weeks earlier, he had already imposed new sanctions on the country. In this, he was following the lead of Barack Obama, who had also called Venezuela a “national security threat” to the United States. Those in Venezuela actually working toward the “restoration of democracy” find themselves increasingly alone and beleaguered.
Evidence of this continues to arrive. On August 29th in Caracas, Venezuela’s CICPC (essentially, the federal investigative police’s forensic department) searched, without a warrant, an SUV belonging to Lilian Tintori, the wife of Leopoldo López, the country’s most popular opposition leader. (López is serving a 14-year sentence, now by house arrest, following a conviction on trumped-up charges relating to anti-government protests he helped conduct in 2014.) Since her husband’s imprisonment, Tintori has acted as his most prominent advocate, and is now a recognized, if unofficial, leader of the opposition. In her vehicle, the officers came across cardboard boxes containing 200 million bolivars in cash. Depending on the exchange rate applied, that amounts to between $9,000 and $61,000. The sum was bound to provoke controversy in a country where, thanks to a collapsing economy, a devaluing currency, and the highest inflation on earth (290 percent in 2016, according to the Johns Hopkins-Cato Institute’s Troubled Currencies Project), the average monthly salary now equals about $13 (at the black market rate). The government then announced it would be arraigning Tintori on unspecified charges and seized her passport, thereby blocking her imminent departure for Europe, where she was due to meet with the French, Spanish, and German heads of state on behalf of the opposition.