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?
The Dutch Caribbean have been caught up in a legal dispute between the American oil company ConocoPhillips and the government of Venezuela.
A judge has allowed Conoco to seize Venezuelan-owned and -operated refineries on the islands in order to collect $2 billion in compensation awarded by the International Chamber of Commerce for the 2007 nationalization of Conoco assets in the socialist-run country.
Seventeen Latin American nations, including those run by leftists, agree Venezuela is now a “dictatorship” under Nicolás Maduro.
For most of his presidency, Maduro has ruled by decree. When the opposition won a majority of the seats in parliament, he replaced it with a Constituent Assembly full of cronies. Critical lawmakers have been arrested. A “truth commission” is being established to investigate thoughtcrimes. Instead of seeing high crime and low growth rates as evidence of the failure of Venezuela’s socialist experiment, the crude and homophobic Maduro entertains anti-American and anticapitalist conspiracy theories.
Surges of protests against a deeply unpopular government have catapulted Venezuela from back-burner regional crisis to a hemispheric one. It’s only a Russian presidential visit away from becoming the world’s next geopolitical hot spot.
Medical supplies are running short, opposition leaders are calling for nationwide boycotts and now the Americans are rousing themselves to begin a sanctions regime against the beleaguered Maduro government.
It’s quite the fall from grace. From 2004 until 2013, Venezuela’s economy rocketed upward, bringing a measure of prosperity to a country long accustomed to hardship. It appeared, in those heady days, that Hugo Chávez, the country’s authoritarian ruler, could bring about his socialist Bolivarian Revolution and economic prosperity. For the Latin American left, Venezuela was proof that one did not have to conform to the neoliberal capitalism of the United States to be successful.
Alas, since 2013, the economy has slid further and further while inflation has hammered the country’s currency to the point of worthlessness.
With America now poking its nose directly into Venezuelan affairs, with the opposition building a shadow government and with the Russians trying to shore up Nicolás Maduro’s government through increasingly generous aid shipments, the country has all the ingredients of a major geopolitical crisis.
The Americans could find themselves sucked into an ever-expanding role in managing the Maduro regime; the opposition could give up on peaceful politics altogether and embark on an armed struggle; an opportunistic Vladimir Putin might wedge Russian power into South America in hopes of throwing the Americans off balance in Europe. Read more “Venezuela Is a Geopolitical Tinderbox”
Venezuela has plummeted to new depths. In an act of blatant disregard of the separation of powers, the Supreme Court has stripped the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its lawmaking power and revoked immunity from all assembly members after accusing parliamentarians of “contempt”.
This latest step toward authoritarianism was denounced as a “coup” and “a final blow to democracy” — not just by opposition parties, but by the international community and even some within the government (the state attorney general).
The alliance between Cuba and Venezuela has lost prominence in recent years as the former normalized its diplomatic relations with the United States while the latter doubled down on a self-described anti-imperialist policy.
Now Donald Trump’s presidency threatens to bring the two countries closer together again.
Trump, who assumed power last week, has pledged to reverse the Cuba policy of his predecessor “unless the Castro regime meets our demands”.
Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state and the former boss of ExxonMobil, has an acrimonious history when it comes to Venezuela.
When Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) won a two-thirds supermajority in the National Assembly last year, it represented an unquestionable shift after sixteen years of socialist rule. There was desire for change. Not just from the traditional array of opponents to the ruling party government, but also from those who still call themselves Chavistas.
Those clamors, in part mobilized by the MUD, have become noticeably louder in recent weeks and months and protests have been firmly met by riot police and tear gas.
The country, home to the world’s largest oil reserves and previously one of the most developed in Latin America, is now suffering from the world’s highest inflation rate, varying between 180 and 700 percent. In the boom times, oil (which accounts for 95 percent of exports) helped pay for a million homes for the poor. Now, after three years of decline, with the sovereign wealth fund depleted and the economy expected to shrink by 8 percent, default is a distinct possibility.
Everyday Venezuelans are feeling the bite through shortages in electricity, food, water and medicine. The bare essentials of society have been stripped away and replaced by blackouts, endless queues for basic household goods, violence and looting. The country has the second highest murder rate in the world.
2003 was a different era. The United States waged a war of choice in Iraq; Vladimir Putin’s Russia was seen as a paper tiger; China’s economic boom roared but didn’t threaten; Dubai was unknown; and the United States seemed like it would forever be an oil importer.
Much has changed. But today, the price of oil dropped to $27 a barrel, last seen in the heady days of the first W. Bush Administration.