Caracas, May 16, 2016 (AFP)
With President Nicolas Maduro imposing a state of emergency across Venezuela amid rising public anger over a collapsing economy, the threat of unrest looms large across South America's biggest oil producer.
"You know there's a crisis coming," is how one senior US intelligence official put it.
Here's what is happening now -- and where it might go:
What is the state of emergency?
Maduro announced the measure last Friday, saying it would last from May through July but could be renewed into next year.
He hasn't spelled out the details, but has declared the military will hold "national" exercises next weekend against an unspecified "armed intervention" he hints is being fomented with US help.
The armed forces command issued a statement rejecting "the systematic campaign of disinformation and provocation orchestrated from abroad."
Maduro also said his government would seize factories made idle by owners who complain they can no longer source raw materials for production.
How bad is the economy?
Projections of inflation this year range up to 700 percent -- the highest in the world. The economy shrank 5.7 percent last year and will contract further this year. Basic food items and medicine are increasingly scarce. Government-mandated blackouts occur in some areas to conserve energy.
The situation is all the more unsettling given that Venezuela is the country with the biggest proven oil reserves in the world.
But with oil prices languishing at just a third of what they were a couple years ago and Venezuela's revenues almost entirely dependent on the black stuff, cash is running out.
The country is still making its debt repayments, but expectation is high that it will default within months.
Is there unrest yet?
Protests have taken place, both for and against the government. There have also been reports of people looting food from stores, and a lot of discontent over energy rationing and decimated purchasing power.
So far there is no open conflict on the streets, but fears are growing that widespread unrest could explode.
To maintain order, Maduro relies on the police and army. There are also groups of pro-government motorbike gangs that repress protests, often violently.
Is Maduro's head on the block?
Venezuela's president is unpopular, with the support of about one in four citizens, according to a March survey by the Datanalisis firm. Seventy percent want a change of government.
But the leader has dismissed a push by the opposition -- which won control of parliament in December -- to oust him through a recall referendum, and the country's supreme court and electoral commission have thrown up obstacles to the process.
Maduro insists he will see out his current term, which runs until early 2019.
There are no signs that Venezuela's military -- from which Maduro's charismatic predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, hailed -- is faltering in its support of the current president.
What could happen?
The United States, with its history of trying to manipulate politics in Latin America during the Cold War, has largely avoided public comment on Venezuela's plight.
But a senior US intelligence officer told reporters on Friday that "you can hear the ice cracking."
Maduro himself follows the anti-US rhetoric set by his predecessor and blames much of the adversity he faces on American plots.
Yet Venezuela's opposition has also warned that Maduro's emergency decree and strong-arm tactics to avert a recall were ratcheting up public exasperation.
The scenarios being speculated upon by analysts and observers are: public revolt, a military coup, or increasingly authoritarian rule by Maduro to keep strife in check and himself in power.
Sumber : AFP
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