Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro lacks the charisma and nearly universal name recognition of his predecessor Hugo Chávez, though he clearly shares his former mentor's affinity for bullying and controversy.
Last week, Maduro ordered the attorney general of Venezuela to take legal action against Harvard professor Ricardo Hausmann in light of an opinion piece Hausmann wrote arguing that Venezuela ought to default on its foreign bonds. In the article, Hausmann claimed that the Maduro government has failed to adopt "common-sense policies" which would point in favor of defaulting, but that instead the Maduro government has chosen to "default on 30 million Venezuelans". In response, Maduro called Hausmann a "bandit" and justified pursuing legal action on the grounds that Hausmann "live[s] with money stolen from Venezuela" and is "involved in a campaign to damage our fatherland".
Regardless of whether or not professor Hausmann's economic advice is best for Venezuela, he ought to enjoy the full freedom to make such a claim without redress, especially while residing in the United States. Maduro's threat demonstrates the disrespect for freedom of speech that the Venezuelan government has shown for decades. In spite of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela's constitutional claims to hold "liberty, justice... and the preeminence of human rights" as "superior values", the Chávez and Maduro governments have been woefully deficient in upholding those ideals.
Maduro has failed to maintain the gains in GDP brought on by Chávez's economic policies, though instead of tackle these issues head on, he has opted to scapegoat Hausmann. Further, as Hausmann himself writes in his piece, Maduro also substitutes targeting the sources of his country's economic woes "with measures like closing borders... and fingerprinting shoppers". Perhaps willfully blind to the problems facing his nation, Madura has at least displayed an unwillingness to face them.
Hausmann called Maduro's televised tirade "the despotic diatribe of a tropical thug". Both Maduro's words and his actions show that his arbitrary prejudices and delusions have led him to shun his own people in favor of his ego.
Hausmann is right to be unafraid of Maduro's threats, and if any legal process actually does get mobilized, the United States ought to offer him full protection. Hausmann has said nothing actually libelous and in fact may have suggested a course of action that is best for the Venezuelan people. The country's economic woes are Maduro's responsibility, and Hausmann—a resident of the United States—should have no reason to fear his tactics of intimidation.