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As Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tightens his white-knuckled grip on power, his supporters argue that in at least one respect, they were right all along. The first principle of Chavismo, the movement created by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, is that Chavistas are locked in a permanent struggle with the imperialist United States and its lackeys in the Venezuelan oligarchy. For 20 years the state drilled this message into the public’s heads, at times using it to justify secret police raids, empty shop shelves, and soaring prices.

The American bogeyman apparently turned real on January 23: opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president, and the United States, Canada, and many countries in Latin America rushed to endorse his claim. “The fundamental issue in our revolution is independence,” one Maduro loyalist told me. “No one accepts the capitulation of the government or ultimatums from the United States.”

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