Venezuelan protesters failed last year to force President Nicolás Maduro to step down in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crisis. After his emphatic victory in Sunday’s presidential elections. they have to reconcile themselves to his rule for another six-year term. The embattled Mr. Maduro won the poll with 68% of the vote. and with a turnout of less than 50%. according to the election commission. Potential challengers to Mr. Maduro. Hugo Chávez’s protégé and successor. are either in detention or barred from the contest after they organised mass protests against his government. alleging brutal misrule and economic mismanagement. An umbrella coalition of opposition parties and activist groups. the Broad Front for a Free Venezuela. had called on the people to boycott what they said was as a sham exercise. Mr. Maduro’s closest rival. Henri Falcón. alleged fraud and demanded a fresh ballot. It is highly unlikely that demands for a re-poll will be countenanced by the Maduro regime. But it is clear that the shrinking democratic space has exerted a toll on the polity overall. The Venezuelan health system has all but collapsed. A Minister who expressed concern over the high incidence of certain diseases that were believed to have been eradicated was sacked promptly last year. The collapse of the medical system is particularly shocking. given the emphasis on health care in Chavez’s commodity-driven growth model. Inflation has hit 13.000%. and the economy is set to contract further. It is hard to believe that Venezuela. with the world’s largest proven oil reserves. was considered Latin America’s wealthiest country not so long ago.
Venezuelans have been leaving the country to escape shortages of rations and the rampant unrest. The UN estimates that each day 4.000 Venezuelans are making it across to Colombia. There is talk of a concerted international response to the Venezuelan crisis after Mr. Maduro’s re-election. especially further sanctions by the U.S. and possibly the European Union. But there are moral and practical limits to these measures against a country that is gripped by a systemic crisis — and the humanitarian costs of sanctions must not be ignored. In any case. Venezuela’s oil production has been falling steadily. and analysts do not expect that an embargo on its exports would have the desired impact. Mr. Maduro may be part of Venezuela’s problem. But he can be a big part of the solution as well. He could make a beginning by ceding democratic space for dissent both within and outside his party. and by rolling back the country’s confrontational foreign policy. Blaming the West alone for Venezuela’s economic crisis will not get him very far.