Venezuela crisis: A starving country is fed up with Maduro and the miserable failure of socialism

If any head of state is facing a political choice between the noose and the firing squad, it is Nicolas Maduro, the brutal, bumbling president of Venezuela who has led his country down the path to chaos and misery. For him, the end is near.

Maduro was never more than a pale imitation of Hugo Chavez, the Marxist Svengali who ran the country until his death in 2013. Lacking the charisma and bravado of the former general, Maduro nonetheless tried to expand Chavez’s loony vision of “Bolivarian revolution,” marked by nationalization of private companies, alliances with rogues like Iran and North Korea, and a steady theft of the individual rights of Venezuelans.

This weekend, Maduro will attempt his most audacious power grab: a nationwide election to form a so-called National Constituent Assembly, which Maduro has ensured will be comprised of supporters of his rotting regime. The assembly’s chore: rewrite the constitution to give Maduro unlimited authority forever.

The country’s growing and increasingly determined opposition has warned Maduro to cancel the vote, yet he appears determined to follow through on his plan. But here’s the rub: if he carries out the vote, the opposition has promised to shut down the country with protests, which of late have become lethal events, further enraging the population. If he caves and cancels, he looks weak, which for desperate dictators can be fatal. Either way, Maduro loses.

Venezuela is the 21st century’s freshest example of the failure of socialist cant to fit into the real world. Invoking Bolivar, Fidel Castro, Marx and Lenin these days is like trying to get people to pay for dial-up internet service. Venezuelans know they’re being had, and they’ve had enough.

Venezuela is the 21st century’s freshest example of the failure of socialist cant to fit into the real world. Invoking Bolivar, Fidel Castro, Marx and Lenin these days is like trying to get people to pay for dial-up internet service. Venezuelans know they’re being had, and they’ve had enough.

FILE - In this June 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, talks to his Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez during Army Day celebrations at Fuerte Tiuna, in Caracas, Venezuela. Padrino Lopez challenged on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 the countries that have declared against the government's initiative to rewrite Venezuela's constitution, saying the nation will not submit to foreign governments. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File)

FILE - In this June 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro, left, talks to his Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez during Army Day celebrations at Fuerte Tiuna, in Caracas, Venezuela. Padrino Lopez challenged on Wednesday, July 19, 2017 the countries that have declared against the government's initiative to rewrite Venezuela's constitution, saying the nation will not submit to foreign governments. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano, File) (AP)

President Trump is doing his part to ruin Maduro’s weekend. The U.S. has imposed economic sanctions on a dozen Maduro supporters, freezing their assets in America and banning them from entering the country. More efforts could follow, including new cuts to the amount of oil the U.S. imports from crude-rich Venezuela. As a precaution, the State Department ordered relatives of U.S. diplomats in Caracas to leave the country.

Trump, who likes to talk tough, should be prepared to follow through on his threat to take further action against Maduro, who he called “a bad leader who dreams of being a dictator.”

Memo to White House: Maduro already is one. The question is how much longer he’ll last. For a once-proud country that’s been turned into socialist cinders, the sooner Maduro goes, the better. Trump should do everything possible to make that happen.

Opposition lawmaker Franco Casella is attacked by masked men in a melee with supposed government supporters who tried to forced their way into the National Assembly at the end of a ceremony commemorating the country's Independence Day in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, July 5, 2017. Venezuela is marking 206 years of their declaration of independence from Spain.  (AP Photos/Fernando Llano)

Opposition lawmaker Franco Casella is attacked by masked men in a melee with supposed government supporters who tried to forced their way into the National Assembly at the end of a ceremony commemorating the country's Independence Day in Caracas, Venezuela, Wednesday, July 5, 2017. Venezuela is marking 206 years of their declaration of independence from Spain. (AP Photos/Fernando Llano) (AP)