THE EXPULSION of three U.S. diplomats by Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro last week should be taken as one more symptom of the unravelling of the crackpot socialist regime inflicted on the country by the late Hugo Chávez. Mr. Maduro, a former bus driver picked by Mr. Chavez to replace him as he was dying of cancer, accused Charge D’affairs Kelly Keiderling and two colleagues of plotting to sabotage the crumbling national electric grid, histrionically shouting “Yankee, go home” for good measure.
The charges are ridiculous, but there is logic to their timing. Mr. Maduro’s government is besieged by the consequences of 14 years of disastrous economic policies: inflation that has risen above 45 percent; severe shortages, including of food staples and toilet paper; chronic power outages, including one that turned out lights in 70 percent of the country last month; and one of the world’s highest rates of violent crime.
Two weeks ago the president travelled to China in the hope of extracting a cash loan from one of Venezuela’s biggest oil customers. According to reports in the Venezuelan press, he was turned down. Incredibly, a country that receives $90 billion a year in oil revenue lacks the cash to import basic consumer goods. Meanwhile well-connected officials and businessmen feast on the difference between the official rate of exchange for the dollar and the black-market rate, which is seven times higher. And then there is drug trafficking: French authorities last month seized more than 1.3 tons of cocaine worth $270 million from an Air France flight originating in Caracas, showing that large-scale smuggling operations that have been linked to senior military commanders continue.
Unwilling or unable to take steps to stabilize the economy, combat the mounting violence in the streets or stop rampant corruption, Mr. Maduro has taken to ranting about supposed conspiracies to cause shortages or power outages as well as plots to kill him. Some are blamed on the “fascist” opposition; the French firm Airbus recently was accused of sabotaging the presidential plane. But the Obama administration is increasingly the foil. A couple of weeks before expelling the diplomats, Mr. Maduro claimed, falsely, that U.S. authorities had prohibited his plane from crossing U.S. airspace; a few weeks before that he said he had learned of a secret White House meeting at which a plan to destabilize Venezuela was hatched, called “Total Collapse.”
Sadly, “total collapse” is where Mr. Maduro’s regime appears to be headed. But far from plotting that disaster, the Obama administration spent much of the last year courting Mr. Maduro, in the naive belief that relations with Venezuela could be rebuilt following Mr. Chavez’s demise. In June Secretary of State John F. Kerry went out of his way to meet Mr. Maduro’s foreign minister and announced his intention to “find a new way forward” with his government. The expulsion of the diplomats, which the State Department quickly reciprocated, ought to lead to a correction of that poor judgment. The United States should do nothing to abet Mr. Maduro’s implosion; it also should do nothing to prevent it.