Is Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro Worse Than Hugo Chavez?

Maduro's move to rule by decree following a raid on electronics stores in Venezuela makes him a worse leader than Hugo Chavez. And that's saying something.

Nicolas Maduro Venezuela rule by decree

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro holds up the document declaring he will rule by decree for one year.  It will be an incompetent rule, even when compared to Hugo Chavez.  (Image Source: Reuters)

Nicolas Maduro was granted the power to rule by decree today, following a close vote in the Venezuelan National Assembly that for some reason required the removal of an opposition politician.  Similar to the efforts of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chavez, Maduro now has the power to rule over the country without congressional approval for about a year, which he intends to use to mount an "economic offensive."  Maduro, who has never served in the military and thus probably has little idea what an "offensive" means, nevertheless thinks his actions will bring honor to his military-based mentor.  Given his prior response to Venezuela's economic crisis in Venezuela included having the army allow citizens to loot electronics stores, there is reason to suspect the opposite, and in fact show Maduro to be a worse leader than even Chavez.  And Chavez was bad.

The effort to rule by decree comes as, following Chavez's death earlier in 2013, an economic disaster has unraveled in Venezuela:  There are food shortages everywhere, and even a run on toilet paper.  The inflation rate is more than 50% per year, compared to about 2% for most normal economies.  The bolivar, Venezuela's currency, is quickly becoming a worthless currency, with the black market rate at about 60 bolivars per US dollar, nearly 10 times the current rate of 6.3 bolivars per dollar.  Infrastructure has gotten to the point that 70% of the country was without power for a brief period in September.

However, Maduro seems not particularly interested in maintaining control of the economy.  Last month, he pulled a stunt that would stun even his former "comandante:"  Maduro ordered the Venezuelan Army into electronics stores that resemble Best Buy, forcing owners at gunpoint to essentially give away plasma TVs and other gear to Venezuelan citizens.  The oil economy that provided the government funding has run dry due to low oil prices, and Maduro seems unable to make the changes necessary to keep the money flowing.

While Hugo Chavez was alive, he instigated social programs for the poor using Venezuela's oil money, partly to buy votes in elections.  He was also known to bully businesses and attack corporations in order to perfect his socialist agenda.  Nevertheless, Chavez still managed to have enough control over the economy to allow it to grow and maintain his social programs.  Maduro does not have that degree of control, and does not even seem to have a clue as to how to manage oil revenues.  This has led to bombastic actions and demands. 

Granted, Chavez made changes, following a close congressional election in 2010, that could make him dictator at any time.  But the thing about Chavez was that he was at least competent as a tyrant.  Maduro is certainly not a competent tyrant, and his ruling by decree is less about actually fixing the economy and more about consolidating his power and being an idiot.