As his country’s economy implodes around him, Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro has resorted to what may be a last-ditch effort to stay in power.
On Tuesday, the autocratic president appointed Defense Minister Padrino Lopez to a newly created role that could best be described as co-president. In making the move, Maduro also increased the power and autonomy of the military over civilians. Maduro has claimed that the political maneuver strengthens Venezuela in the midst of a U.S.-backed “economic war” being waged against the country; however, analysts told CNBC that Maduro is shoring up armed support as the forces arrayed against him gain power.
“I think this is a sign that Maduro recognizes his weakness, but is also a sign that he wants to demonstrate that he will go to all lengths to survive,” said Matthew Taylor, a senior fellow for Latin America Studies for the Council on Foreign Relations.
Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, shared similar sentiments: “Maduro needed to do this because there were too many fronts that were unstable. … It’s an arrangement he needed to bolster the government.”
Venezuela’s oil-dependent economy capsized with the fall in crude prices, leaving whole swathes of the country’s 31 million people without enough food or other necessities. Inflation is expected to hit almost 720 percent this year, and gross domestic product is seen falling by 8 percent, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, left the nation in a vulnerable economic position by nationalizing energy assets while oil prices were high and spending proceeds on widespread social programs. Oil’s global drop in 2014 left the government far short of its revenue needs and with only an anemic private sector to generate taxes or jobs.
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