Nicolás Maduro is still president of Venezuela. That may not sound like news, but in the six years he has been in power, he has so poorly managed the economy, with increasingly authoritarian measures, that GDP has shrunk 60 percent, inflation has reached an astronomical 10 million percent, once forgotten diseases have returned, 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled the country and 90 percent of the remaining population lives in poverty. It’s the worst economic collapse outside of a civil war.
Little wonder mass protests have been a recurrent aspect of Maduro’s administration, but so far all attempts to remove him have failed.
Maduro only won reelection in 2018 after arresting opposition presidential candidates, sidelining the opposition-controlled legislature and most likely rigging the vote.
Twenty years have passed since Hugo Chavez’ Bolivarian Revolution began in Venezuela. Although the first decade halved unemployment and brought poverty levels down to 27 percent, under President Nicolás Maduro there has been a dramatic economic, political and social decline.
Inflation has skyrocketed and is expected to reach 1,000,000 percent this year. Shortages of basic goods have resulted in widespread malnutrition. The outbreak of previously forgotten diseases and violence has reached unprecedented levels. 73 lives are lost per day.
This, combined with a political system that has barred and arrested opposition presidential candidates, sidelined an opposition-dominated legislature and last year carried out an election marred by an opposition boycott and claims of vote-rigging, has led to an exodus of almost 10 percent of Venezuela’s 30 million population. 90 percent of those who remain live in poverty.
With such a parlous state of affairs, how has Maduro kept the show on the road?
Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), looks like the perfect adversary for Donald Trump. The American represents the financial elites and inequality AMLO has railed against his entire career whereas he himself embodies the hopes of Mexico’s poorest, many of whom have sought a better life in the United States — and who have been disparaged by Trump as criminals and rapists.
But the two leaders also share traits: a populist style, policy light on detail and nostalgia for a bygone era.
Brazil is the latest country to lurch toward right-wing nationalism. When Jair Bolsonaro resoundingly defeated his left-wing opponent, Fernando Haddad, in the country’s presidential election last month, news whirled around the world reporting this was Brazil’s Donald Trump.
The appointment of a new president in Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, sixty years after the island’s socialist revolution, feels like a turning point.
Once anointed by the 605-strong National Assembly as Cuba’s first non-Castro president in decades, Díaz-Canel vowed to modernize the economy and make government more responsive to its people.
What does the change mean in practice?
Not having a Castro, neither Fidel (1976-08) nor Raúl (2008-18), as leader carries with it great symbolism for sure. For the first time in many years, the powerful roles of president and head of the Communist Party are no longer combined. (Raúl remains party leader for three years.) But the Castro years weren’t quite as monolithic as they are sometimes portrayed and the next few years are unlikely to see a turnaround. Read more “With the Castros Gone, Is Change Afoot in Cuba?”
Mexico’s general election on July 1 will involve roughly 3,400 new elected officials taking office and $2 billion in campaign finance. It has been dubbed the biggest election in Mexican history.
It is important not only in terms of scale, but in terms of its new rules. For the first time, the ban on reelection does not apply and independent candidates can run.
This heightened capacity for change coincides with an electorate moving from apathy toward anger. Last year, only 18 percent of Mexicans told pollsters they were satisfied with their democracy, down from 41 percent in 2016. Institutional confidence is at a nadir.