Christmas in Caracas

Author Patricia Garip, Senior Contributing Editor

Nicolas Maduro is about to be re-inaugurated for another six years, based on a May 20 election that was widely condemned abroad as illegitimate. In a divided world, there is little sign that he will lose his hold on power.

The Yuletide scene at Miraflores presidential palace must be especially festive this year. One can picture a soaring tree adorned with miniature red oil barrels, dangling medallions of Simon Bolivar and Hugo Chavez, and a tiny Tupolev bomber, a memento from President Nicolas Maduro’s visit last week to Moscow.  The colored lights will twinkle from sporadic power cuts. Christmas morning the Maduro family will unwrap Cuban cigars and Russian caviar and find Turkish delight in their stockings.

Maybe some Mexican tequila as well.

But Maduro won´t get everything he wished for this year. Recent sojourns in Beijing, Moscow and Mexico City yielded expedient photo opportunities and some hearty meals. But what he really needs is money.

A new currency rolled out with great fanfare turned out to be a flop. The shiny new Bolivar bills are sold as souvenirs on street corners in Bogotá. The Petro that was supposed to be the next Bitcoin hasn´t caught on with anyone except for a few Russian bankers. And in the year since he ordered oil minister Manuel Quevedo to raise crude production by 1mn b/d, output has actually tumbled by 800,000 b/d. Crude exports are almost all eaten up by debt payments and barter deals for oil products. Then there are the never-ending legal bills to fend off creditors and hang on to Citgo.

But the president probably didn´t dither over his New Year´s resolution. Six years after succeeding Chavez, Maduro is about to be re-inaugurated for a half dozen more, and he is determined to remain in power at all costs. Despite several South American governments threatening to cut diplomatic ties, Maduro can count on Caribbean islands and others like Mexico to at least stay neutral. The divided Latin offensive, plus US sanctions and a White House in disarray, must make Maduro feel a little like Fidel. Millions of Venezuelans have fled, but that just means fewer mouths to feed.

Morale in the presidential palace got a boost from last week´s visit by Turkey´s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And in Vienna, Quevedo made the most of Venezuela´s assumption of the rotating Opec presidency next year, even if Caracas lost its seat at the grown-ups´ table where production cuts are decided. This week Russian military jets were zooming over Venezuela in a high-profile show of support. Hints of Iranian military cooperation might be in that unmarked box under the tree. 

Deck the halls of Miraflores, the first lady must be saying. On the night before Christmas, her husband is cobbling together just enough legitimacy to get past his inauguration, with every hope of muddling through to 2024. No Scrooge, no Grinch, just Jolly Saint Nicolas in a red suit.

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