Soaring crime, surging inflation and widespread shortages of basic staples—from sugar to toilet paper—are putting pressure on Maduro, who succeeded the late Hugo Chavez and narrowly won an election last April. But the government this week repeated its resolve to put down the uprising.
"I'm going to take drastic measures against these sectors who are attacking and killing the people," Maduro said in a speech Wednesday.
As it struggles to quell the street violence, the government is fighting an even tougher battle to reverse the economic slide that has left the oil-rich country deep in debt and inflicted with rampant inflation and widespread shortages on the very people the socialist revolution is supposed to be helping.
Maduro has vowed to continue his mentor's revolution. Chavez came to power in 1999 with a promise to spread the nation's vast oil wealth to its poorest citizens, eventually nationalizing the assets of foreign firms.
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For a time, the promise was partially fulfilled. Thanks to heavily subsidized food and energy, poverty rates fell and household consumption rose. But the heavy reliance on oil revenues, much of it ill-spent, has left the country mired in economic stagnation.
Now, a younger generation with little memory of pre-Chavez Venezuelan life is demanding that the government change course.
"They're realizing that it's not enough having the subsidies if you cannot find essential supplies in the supermarket," said IHS Global Insight economist Paula Diosquez-Rice. "They have stopped producing anything—from food to cars. It was cheaper to just import them."
As the private economy has withered, Venezuela now imports two-thirds of its food. Gross domestic product fell from 5.5 percent in 2012 to just 0.7 percent last year and is expected to grow by just 0.5 percent this year, according to the World Bank. That compares with 2.9 percent growth for Latin America this year. Venezuelan inflation is running over 50 percent a year and the local currency, the bolivar, is trading on the black market at more than 10 times the official rate.
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That leaves the country heavily reliant on oil exports of about 2.2 million barrels a day, much of it sold to the U.S. The state oil company, PDVSA, also makes and distributes about 750,000 barrels a day through its Citgo subsidiary.