Question of the Day in Venezuela: “Where Are We Going, and What’s With the Handbasket?”

I imagine that most port-side pundits, politicians and bloggers in the United States who in the past showed sympathy for Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro are busy trying to be very, very, very quiet about this:

Fugitive Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez calmly turned himself in to authorities Tuesday as thousands of pro- and anti-government supporters rallied in the capital Caracas.

President Nicolas Maduro — whose government is under fire over what protesters say is rampant crime and deteriorating living conditions — had banned the opposition march called by Lopez at the Plaza Brion.

Lopez’s surrender marked a dramatic inflection point after two tension-filled weeks of protests in the oil-rich country, led by students also angry over the jailing of demonstrators.

The Harvard-educated economist told thousands of his supporters, all clad in white, that he hoped his arrest would highlight the “unjust justice” in Venezuela, to an explosion of cheers from the crowds.

Maduro, speaking to pro-government oil workers dressed in red in the western part of the city, countered that Lopez would have to “answer for his calls to sedition.”

The Venezuelan leader last week ordered Lopez’s arrest on charges of homicide and inciting violence after violent street clashes in Caracas left three dead.

So, protesting in Venezuela is verboten. Never mind the massive amounts of government incompetence that Venezuelans have to deal with. Never mind the corruption. “Good” citizens are the ones who ignore the problems that the country has, or deny that the country currently has any problems that the government might bear some responsibility for and blame the opposition/the United States/space aliens for the existence of problems that may exist. And if they don’t do these things, they get charged with sedition, and murder, and get arrested.

And of course, Chávez/Maduro supporters in the punditocracy have absolutely nothing whatsoever to say about any of this. They are probably too busy trying to come up with new ways to argue that George W. Bush was the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler, or something.

Not ignoring the disaster in Venezuela is Peter Wilson:

Old campaign posters for Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chávez still flutter above the state-owned Mercal grocery store that Roberto Briceno runs in a working-class neighborhood in this industrial city of 150,000.

Briceno says he should post another sign: “Closed.”

He hasn’t opened the store, which sells cooking oil, powdered milk, chicken, and other basic foodstuffs at deeply subsidized prices, for more than 10 days.

“I have nothing to sell,” he said in February. “I have been calling the Mercal warehouse everyday and they say they have nothing. I don’t know what they expect us to eat.”

Briceno isn’t alone. Many storeowners throughout Venezuela are facing the same predicament, thanks to uncertainties about the country’s new foreign-exchange policies.

In January 2014, Venezuela revamped its currency system — one historically riddled with corruption and an overvalued bolivar that only stoked a raging black market. The official exchange rate is now 6.3 bolivars to the dollar for food, medicines, and goods that the government deems priorities. But the government has transferred other foreign-exchange transactions, like travel and remittances, to the Sicad exchange rate — Venezuela’s other rate in its currency-control system — to 11.7 bolivars to the dollar. The black market rate is now 84 bolivars to the dollar.

The government has dramatically reduced access to dollars to protect its dwindling international reserves. Consequently, some retailers, like Briceno, don’t have any inventories at all, while others are finding it difficult to import goods. Meanwhile, exasperated consumers grouse about the lack of products, while spending hours each day, trudging from store to store. And to make matters worse for storeowners, President Nicolas Maduro has made retailers lower prices or face expropriation — a move he put in place in November 2013.

Maduro asserts that the country’s new exchange system will go a long way to alleviate shortages of food, toilet paper, medicines, and other daily necessities. Critics, however, argue that by transferring many transactions to the Sicad rate in Venezuela’s dual-rate system, this is nothing but disguised devaluation and it will only spur inflation.

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