Have Venezuelans Reached a Tipping Point?

By: Olivia Hansen

In light of an economic downturn and political unrest, Venezuela is calling for impeachment of President Maduro. Maduro came to power in a special election after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013. He ran after serving only six months as the Venezuelan Vice President under Chavez as the United Socialist Party of Venezuela’s (Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) candidate.

Maduro’s rule has been challenged since the beginning. He won the special election by a very narrow margin of less than 2% of votes, a result challenged by his opponent, Henrique Capriles, to no avail. In 2014 middle-class citizens in many parts of the country protested his government, a government based in socialism, internationalism, and populism that has been described as cult-like and “far-reaching foreign policy.” However, within a few months, and after the military had been mobilized in Maduro’s support, opposition waned.

Venezuela’s economy, once Latin America’s most affluent country while under Chavez, and with much credit going to oil production, is now a disaster. While Chavez was still in power, inflation began to skyrocket, food shortages became common, and government spending overpowered the amount of revenue the government was able to bring in because oil prices plummeted in 2008. Since then, increased inflation, now estimated at 800%, confiscation of national businesses by the government leading to lower rates of production, and decreased oil sales have only furthered Venezuela’s plight.

Earlier this year, Henry Ramos Allup, the speaker of the opposition-led National Assembly, declared Maduro’s attempts to save the economy, “a decree for vagrancy.” He is referring to Maduro’s decree declaring a two-day workweek in order to save energy in the oil-rich, but cash poor nation. Other decrees have included government sanctioned power outages and cutting workweeks for public sector staff. Things have only gotten worse for Maduro and his Socialist Party. In December 2015 the opposition, the Democratic Unity Table, won a landslide of votes to become the majority of the National Assembly.

On October 23, 2016, the National Assembly announced plans to impeach President Maduro. They declared “there has been a breakdown of constitutional order and a continued state of coup led from the highest level of government by President Maduro.” This push for impeachment led to protests by government supporters, who stormed the National Assembly Building that same afternoon. On Tuesday, October 25, 2016, the National Assembly voted to open a political trial against President Maduro, which the socialist government dismissed as meaningless. The next day, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans dressed in white and protested in Caracas and around the country to demand a referendum to impeach Maduro. In response, opposition leaders announced a 12-hour strike to take place that Friday. Friday has come and gone, and the strike was not as successful as the opposition had hoped. In light of the news of a strike, Maduro announced that the government would seize any business that closed during the strike, thus discouraging participants.

Although polls show that a majority of Venezuelans want a referendum on Maduro, Justices of the Venezuelan Supreme Court and Cabinet members have stated that any opposition by the National Assembly would fail. In 2015, the lame duck National Assembly eliminated congressional oversight of the Central Bank, and replaced 12 Supreme Court Justices to prevent the new opposition-controlled from filling the vacancies. This dichotomy between the opposition-controlled congress, and Maduro’s cabinet and courts leads the government further into chaos. The Supreme Court knocks down bill after bill, and has aided in suppressing legitimate procedures and calls for new elections, leaving the opposition with little to no control.

So now what? How can Venezuela pull its economy out of the gutter and work toward rebuilding a broken country? The international community has had little success in influencing Maduro to accept humanitarian relief, and is unwilling to negotiate with the Democratic Party in his home country. However, if political unrest continues to rise, he may have no choice but to concede to a vote.

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