Venezuela Swears In Opposition Majority

After sixteen years of Chavismo, a symbolic new phase in Venezuelan politics began this week: members of the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) took their seats in the National Assembly as part of a new two-thirds supermajority.

Prior to last month’s surprisingly peaceful parliamentary election, the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) had a majority of 96 out of 167 seats.

Because of the dire straits the country finds itself in, and in spite of considerable obstacles, the MUD has managed to increase their 63 seats to an overwhelming 112. Although an opposition victory was no surprise, the scale of the triumph has sent an unequivocal message of dissatisfaction with the “Bolivarian Revolution” in its current form. Read more “Venezuela Swears In Opposition Majority”

The Beginning of the End of Chavismo?

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela visits Quito, Ecuador, September 21
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela visits Quito, Ecuador, September 21 (Prensa Miraflores)

Sixteen years after Chavismo took hold in the country, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) could — for the first time — lose its parliamentary majority. Elections in December will test the party’s ability to withstand growing discontent and support for a united opposition. Read more “The Beginning of the End of Chavismo?”

The Next Great Geopolitical Crisis: Venezuela

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4 (Prensa Miraflores)

South America gets a lot less attention that it deserves from foreign policy chats and geopolitical blogs. Much of that is because the continent is largely stable: not since the 1930s have there been any interstate wars and now that Colombia’s FARC revolutionary army is on the back foot, it appears failed states have also receded over the horizon. South America’s stability is taken for granted by both the hemispheric superpower and much of the rest of the world.

But within Venezuela, all kinds of chaos is breaking loose.

Last week, the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, threatened to invade and annex half his neighbor, English-speaking Guyana. Before that, he deployed forces to the border with Colombia. Meanwhile, at home, he’s been arresting enemies and presiding over a state that feels very much like it’s collapsing.

Should Venezuela’s state behave as irresponsibly as its past suggests it will, the next great geopolitical crisis will not be in well-trodden battlefields in the Middle East, Asia or Europe but in the United States’ own backyard. Read more “The Next Great Geopolitical Crisis: Venezuela”

Venezuela’s Socialist Revolution Has Turned Ugly

President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4
President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela attends a ceremony in Caracas commemorating the 1992 coup by Hugo Chávez, February 4 (Prensa Miraflores)

Falling oil prices worldwide and failing socialist policies at home have pushed Venezuela’s economy into recession. But rather than recognizing the errors of his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, President Nicolás Maduro is resorting to increasingly totalitarian measures to stay in power.

Maduro narrowly won a presidential election in 2013, a month after Chávez, who had been in power since 1999, died of cancer.

Since Maduro took office, Venezuela’s economic prospects have deteriorated more rapidly. The economy contracted 4 percent last year and is expected to shrink further. The government’s fiscal deficit is heading for 20 percent.

Maduro blames the crisis on right-wing “extremists” who are supposedly plotting with Chávez’ nemesis, the United States, to undermine the Latin American country’s permanent revolution.

Recently, he saw that the bosses of a large Venezuelan pharmacy chain and a supermarket company were arrested — the sort of bourgeois reactionaries Maduro says are responsible for rampant shortages of basic goods, including flour, milk and shampoo.

Last month, the defense minister defied the Constitution to decree that troops could turn their guns on protesters if they turned violent. Demonstrations continue even as thousands have been interned.

Although the courts are unwilling to challenge the government and few independent media outlets remain in business, opposition parties say it is becoming clearer to ordinary voters that their plight is the government’s making.

The global drop in oil prices has exacerbated the shortcomings of Venezuela’s nationalized petroleum industry. Instead of saving when prices were high, the government and state oil company issued more debt between them than any emerging economy from 2007 to 2011 to finance lavish spending on education, food and social housing as well as an expansion of the public sector workforce. The number of Venezuelans in the government’s employ has doubled since Chávez first assumed power.

The socialist government nationalized hundreds of companies, most of which are now losing money and require subsidies to stay afloat. Remaining private companies have been subjugated to price controls, discouraging investment.

Inflation soared to 64 percent in November as the government prints money to continue to pay for an expansive welfare state. Maduro blames “capitalist parasites” for the subsequent price increases.

Maduro Accuses America of Plotting to Destroy Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro delivers a speech (Palacio de Miraflores/Miguel Angulo)

Venezuela’s president Nicolás Maduro seemed oblivious to his own government’s responsibility for the country’s economic crisis during an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that was broadcast on Friday. Instead, he blamed right-wing “extremists” for stirring violence and accused them of plotting with the United States to undermine Venezuela’s “Bolivarian Revolution.”

Praising Venezuela’s socialist revolution, which Maduro said was still “under construction” fifteen years after his predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez, first came to power, the president argued that his was not the only country with problems. During the interview, he repeatedly compared Venezuela to the United States which does not have free education or free health care. “Venezuela has its own problems,” he admitted, “but the problems that we don’t have are the problems of poverty.” Read more “Maduro Accuses America of Plotting to Destroy Venezuela”

Why Ukraine, Thailand Are Not Venezuela

Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro delivers a speech (Palacio de Miraflores/Miguel Angulo)

After the “color revolutions,” the European “indignados,” “Occupy Wall Street” and the “Arab Spring,” pundits are again trying to make sense of a wave of public demonstrations around the world. Parallels have been drawn between the protests in Thailand, Ukraine and Venezuela but only a superficial analysis could conclude that these are equivalent.

The advent of new social media and the easier ability for unorganized demonstrators to mobilize themselves has facilitated the emergence of such phenomena. However, the lack of political coherence often implies an inherent anarchic and unsubstantial character to such demonstrations. If all these protests have something in common, it is that they largely failed to achieve any meaningful change. The Arab Spring did shake things up but it is difficult to see how overthrowing the old regimes has managed to improve living conditions in the Middle East and North Africa.

That said, in 2014, Venezuela’s is probably the most consistent and rational of the protests and it differs starkly from realities in Bangkok and Kiev when it comes to legitimate grievances as well as methodology. Read more “Why Ukraine, Thailand Are Not Venezuela”

Maduro Asks Decree Powers as Venezuela Inflation Soars

Nicolás Maduro
Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro delivers a speech (Palacio de Miraflores/Miguel Angulo)

Venezuela’s legislature is expected to give President Nicolás Maduro decree powers for a year after a dissenting ruling party lawmaker was stripped of her parliamentary immunity on Tuesday and replaced by a government loyalist.

The lawmaker, María Aranguren, said the government trumped up charges of embezzlement and conspiracy to commit a crime against her as part of a witch hunt meant to obtain the last vote it needed to adopt the enabling law.

Maduro first asked the legislature to give him special powers in October to fight corruption and “economic sabotage.” Read more “Maduro Asks Decree Powers as Venezuela Inflation Soars”

Venezuela’s Maduro Fails to Imitate Chávez’ Success

Hugo Chávez Nicolás Maduro
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

Acting president Nicolás Maduro was declared the winner in Venezuela’s election on Sunday, defeating the opposition’s candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski by over 200,000 votes, according to the state’s election board.

Maduro succeeds the Latin American nation’s fiery socialist leader Hugo Chávez who died of cancer last month after fourteen years in power.

Although Capriles, who won 44 percent of the votes in last year’s election against Chávez and just under 49.1 percent on Sunday, according to the official results, accused the ruling party of fraud and demanded a recount, it is unlikely that Maduro’s victory will be reversed. “We will know what to do if someone raises their insolent voice against the people,” the socialist warned on Sunday night.

Still, Maduro’s unexpectedly narrow win — opinion polls had predicted a landslide — casts doubt on the ruling party’s ability to hold on to power without its popular leader. Read more “Venezuela’s Maduro Fails to Imitate Chávez’ Success”

Chávez Protégé Projected to Win Venezuela Election

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and his deputy Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011
President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and Vice President Nicolás Maduro, October 1, 2011 (Prensa Presidencial)

Opinion polls predict that former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez’ chosen successor, acting president Nicolás Maduro, will win Sunday’s election against the centrist candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski, allowing the ruling party to continue Chávez’ self-declared socialist revolution

Shortly before he traveled to Cuba late last year where he underwent cancer treatment, Chávez anointed Maduro his successor. “My firm opinion, as clear as the full moon — irrevocable, absolute, total — is that you elect Nicolás Maduro as president,” he said. “He is one of the young leaders with the greatest ability to continue if I cannot.”

Chávez defeated Capriles in October of last year but died before he could start a fourth term as president. A surge of grief and sympathy bordering on deification of the deceased socialist leader looks certain to propel his deputy Maduro to power. “I am the son of Chávez,” he told supporters during a rally in the capital Caracas on Thursday.

Maduro earlier derided his opponent as a “little bourgeois” and puppet of Venezuela’s wealthy as well as the United States which Chávez routinely accused of meddling in South American politics.

Capriles’ rhetoric has been no less urgent. “Sunday we’re going to choose between life and death,” he said Thursday. “If you want a future, you have to vote for change, for a different government.”

Yet the liberal governor of Miranda state has simultaneously tried to appeal to Chávez supporters and directed his criticism at his heirs whose socialism, he said earlier this month, is “skin deep.”

They talk of socialism but it’s on the surface only. Look how those well connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have.

Capriles described himself as a “progressive” and said he would imitate the economic and social reforms of Brazil’s former president Lula da Silva, a socialist who opened his country to international trade and investment while spending generously on education and welfare programs. Capriles even denounced the “savage capitalism” of corrupt government officials.

The leftist rhetoric does not appear to have boosted the opposition candidate’s popularity. If he defies the odds and does emerge the victor from Sunday’s election, it will likely be because a majority of Venezuelans realized that Chávez’ “revolutionary” socialism hasn’t much improved their nation’s economic prospects.

Although rich in natural resources, Venezuela has had to cope with energy and food shortages in the latter years of Chávez’ presidency. It is the world’s tenth largest oil exporter but a net importer of refined products due to lack of hydrocarbon industry development since the sector was nationalized.

Inflation in March alone was 2.8 percent, suggesting that the annual rate will top 30 percent by year’s end. “Every day it’s harder to find food and every day food is more expensive,” Capriles said in March. “This model is not viable.”

Most Venezuelans seem to disagree.

Venezuela’s Capriles Moves Left But Not Ahead

Presidential candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski tries to persuade Venezuelan voters that Hugo Chávez’ heirs are a far cry from the country’s former leader who died early last month but his leftist rhetoric does not appear to increase his popularity.

Capriles lambasted the “skin deep” socialism of the Latin American nation’s ruling party on Wednesday, complaining that officials, including former vice president Nicolás Maduro, his opponent in this month’s election, line their pockets while vowing to defend Chávez’ legacy.

They talk of socialism but it’s on the surface only. Look how those well connected ones live, what they wear, what cars they go round in, how many bodyguards they have.

Capriles’ attack resonates with Venezuelans, including former Chávez supporters, who believe that the party leadership has grown out-of-touch with ordinary voters. But a majority is still prepared to back Maduro, Chávez’ chosen successor, who derides his challenger as a “little bourgeois” and puppet of Venezuela’s wealthy as well as the United States. Read more “Venezuela’s Capriles Moves Left But Not Ahead”