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Editorial: Caracas tipping point

April 23, 2017 GMT

Venezuela is on the brink of collapse — political and economic.

Protests in the streets of Caracas and other major cities are becoming a daily event. Protesters are being met with tear gas and water cannons. Those are the lucky ones. At least nine protesters have been killed — including this past week a 17-year-old on his way to a soccer game who had just chanced upon a pro-government militia stalking protesters.

Hundreds of demonstrators have also been arrested.

This is the legacy of the late Hugo Chavez, who in the manner of dictators everywhere basically bequeathed the governance of this “worker’s paradise” to his No. 1 follower, former bus driver Nicolas Maduro. Maduro has continued the steady destruction of Venezuela’s economy and what little remained of the rule of law.

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Triple-digit inflation and food shortages have fueled public anger. Opposition political leaders — at least those not in prison — have called for more public protests.

This week in a scenario that echoed the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the General Motors plant in the city of Valencia was seized along with the corporation’s bank accounts. In response GM announced it was shuttering all of its operations in the country, laying off 2,700 plant workers. The plant had been shut since 2015 because it could not import parts — a function of the nation’s onerous hard currency restrictions. Still GM was forced to pay the workers — until its pullout.

The Maduro government had already seized a factory belonging to Kimberly-Clark Corp. last July after the American personal care products firm said it was no longer able to acquire the materials needed to produce its products.

The government, which has already achieved pariah status with the Organization of American States for its outlaw ways, may finally attract the attention of the U.S. government now under Trump administration management.

“We are concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard, nor allowing them to organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters Wednesday — prior to the latest GM action.

If President Trump wants to hone his tough guy image, calling out Maduro for the lawless thug that he is would be a start.