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Venezuela's Maduro keeps eye on prize

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Just months ago, with crowds of protesters baying on the streets for the resignation of the “dictator” and “murderer,” Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro looked like a goner. informs citing Reuters.
Global opinion hardened against his socialist government, with Washington the first to impose sanctions. Coup rumors spread amid one of the worst economic implosions in modern Latin American history, and there were two botched mini-uprisings.

Yet the unpopular successor to Hugo Chavez has not only survived, he is ending the year on a political high and is even a front-runner for the 2018 presidential election.

The upturn in Maduro’s fortunes began with a surprise victory in last month’s gubernatorial elections, thanks to abstentionism by disillusioned opposition supporters and election conditions stacked in favor of his Socialist Party.

He then seized the initiative by announcing Venezuela’s intention to restructure its more than $120 billion foreign debt. The high-stakes moves allows him to blame a U.S.-led “capitalist conspiracy” for hyperinflation and shortages while potentially freeing hard currency to import food and medicines ahead of next year’s vote.

Government sources say a buoyant Maduro is now considering driving home his advantage by bringing forward the normally year-end election to February or March.

The president, so toxic last month that few gubernatorial candidates wanted to be seen with him, might now be his party’s best bet to retain power against an opposition in disarray.

Speculation about alternative candidates - from powerful Socialist Party No. 2 Diosdado Cabello to up-and-coming governor Hector Rodriguez - has quietened in recent days.

“For sure Maduro will be the candidate. How can anyone challenge him?” said Dimitris Pantoulas, a Caracas-based consultant who tracks Socialist Party politics.

“Look at him on TV: He’s bright and happy. He even dances better than before! ‘Chavismo’ has the momentum,” he added, referring to the movement founded by Chavez.

Maduro is taking credit in government circles for pushing through a Constituent Assembly super-body that cemented the socialists’ power - albeit in an election boycotted by the opposition and marred by fraud accusations even from the company running the voting machines - and for breaking the opposition coalition.

With the main parties within the opposition Democratic Unity coalition boycotting next month’s mayoral elections, another win looks likely at the local level.

The 55-year-old leader is already touting his potential 2018 campaign theme: No to the “Yankee” sanctions.

Some believe that was one motivation behind the proposed debt restructuring: to force creditors into pressuring Washington to ease sanctions because they hinder any refinancing of Venezuela’s obligations.

It is also part of Maduro’s strategy with the opposition in talks due to start on Dec. 1 in the Dominican Republic.

“We must demand the Venezuela opposition reach a pact for 2018 to have presidential elections with economic guarantees, an end to U.S. government sanctions and an end to the financial persecution of Venezuela,” Maduro said recently.

2017.11.24 / 11:12
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