Venezuela's a mess, economically, socially and politically, and matters will only worsen unless President Hugo Chavez and his opponents can agree on a democratic solution. That relief -- the resolution of a national crisis that already has prompted one unsuccessful coup -- is in the Venezuelan Constitution. It allows for a national recall election. As Californians know all too well, this electoral option poses its own grave challenges.
In Caracas, there doesn't seem to be much choice, especially given the violence and unrest and if the nation's economy keeps tanking. In the first half of 2003, nonoil economic activity contracted 14.7%, with huge drops in construction (minus 61.9%), commerce (minus 23.6%) and manufacturing (minus 22.5%). Tight foreign-currency controls imposed by Chavez's regime have forced foreign firms like General Motors, Ford, Procter & Gamble and others to dig into their reserves. Now, they're running huge deficits with their parent firms and suppliers. Venezuela's gross domestic product shrank 29% in the first quarter of 2003.
Venezuela fares poorly on the social and political fronts too. Class warfare is common, and the frequent, violent clashes between government sympathizers and the opposition -- including shootings and bombings -- have ripped apart the nation's society.