Violence and Instability in Maduro’s Venezuela

Haleigh Johns

September, 2017

International Crisis Group (2017)

International Crisis Group (2017)


 

For nearly three months, the people of Venezuela have been taking to the streets of their country to protest the government of President Nicolas Maduro. Dozens have been killed in the violent clashes between protestors and police, however, the demonstrations and protests continue on a near-daily basis.

Most of the protests surround the recent actions of Nicholas Maduro, the current president of Venezuela. Maduro has been accused by protestors of attempting to eliminate Venezuela’s democratic institutions and establish an authoritarian regime with himself as the sole holder of power in the South American state.

Among these actions include an attempt to dissolve the nation’s National Assembly, Venezuela’s lower chamber of government that is currently controlled by the opposition party.

Maduro has been able to take such action as the Venezuelan Supreme Court is chock-full of his own supporters, hand-picked by Maduro himself to serve on what ironically should be the biggest check on Maduro’s executive power.

As a nation, Venezuela has been in decline under Maduro’s rule. With inflation hitting triple-digit numbers, the nation’s economy has disintegrated with food shortages and a lack of the basic necessities of living facing millions of Venezuelans.

This major crisis has led to devastating health impacts; infant mortality up by 30% from 2016 and malaria rates nearly doubling in only 12 months. Hospitals are lacking basic equipment, citizens are not receiving proper nutrition, and medications are nowhere to be found, the economic crisis in Venezuela has escalated to fatal levels.

Venezuela’s political, economic, and public health situations becoming increasingly unstable by the day, many are wondering how exactly an oil-rich nation such as Venezuela has failed its citizens so spectacularly.

After socialist revolutionary Hugo Chávez died in 2013, upon fourteen years in power, Maduro was elected as president. While Chávez had earned the respect of those living in the Venezuelan slums, Maduro has instead had eggs thrown at him by poor Venezuelans who cannot afford to feed their families, and no longer reaping the benefits of the socialist revolution brought on by the Chávez government.

Many of Chávez’s biggest supporters, known as “chavists”, are also among Maduro’s biggest protestors. Reminiscing on memories of less than five years ago when Venezuela was considered to be Latin America’s most prosperous nation, the chavists are angry that Maduro’s presidency has reduced their nation, which possesses the world’s largest known oil reserves, to rampant crime and government corruption.

Although anti-Maduro protests began with mostly middle-class Venezuelans and students taking to the streets, in recent weeks the chavists in the slums have begun their own form of protests.

The slums outside of Caracas often having their electricity and water shut off by a government who can’t afford to provide these services to its people, flaming barricades were built in protest and the national guard was called in to subdue areas which were once solid bases of support for the Venezuelan government in Chávez’s era.

Protestors in Venezuela are seeking new elections and the release of the many political prisoners that have been put away by Maduro’s regime. Maduro, however, seems unwilling to concede to his people, and has even expressed his wishes to do away with the nation’s constitution in order to ensure that the power of democracy cannot overthrow his rule.

Every move that Maduro makes to entrench his own power results in progressively violent protests, with the national guard resorting to tear gas and brute force while as protestors respond with homemade gas masks, stones, and jars of human feces thrown at government forces.

Looking forward, it seems that international action will be required in order to remedy the instability and violence in state. The Organization of American States, a hemispheric international organization headquartered in Washington, is expected to meet in late June 2017. If Maduro pulls Venezuela out of the regional alliance as he has threatened external pressure on the nation will be difficult to exert.

Despite the possibility of external pressure forcing Maduro to concede to the wishes of the Venezuelan people, there is also a sense that only institutional solution for the instability of Venezuela is an election. It seems as though until the Venezuelan people have the opportunity to democratically elect a new leader, the fight between democracy and authoritarianism in Venezuela will continue.