Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s former President now deceased, left the nation in a good condition. The economy was thriving, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) doubled, unemployment and poverty rates dropped in halves, and the infant mortality rate was down under Chavez’s presidency. Now currently under new leadership, the country fell into bad hands. Today, the nation’s average person has dropped 19 pounds in body weight due to people starving, hospitals and medicine are inadequate, and the reign is in the hands of President Nicolas Maduro. According to Freedom House, the country has gone from “partly free” to completely “not free” within the span of a year (2016-2017). People may ask, “How does a rich democracy transformed into a dictatorship?” I believe it is due to the process of stripping the country from its greatest economic resource to gain control – oil. In addition, President Maduro uses his influence and fear tactics to dominate the country and steer it from a democracy to a dictatorship.
Venezuela’s main resource is oil. It has the most oil reserves in the world*, but recently the country has been drilling less and less oil. According to CNN, Venezuela has been drilling 1.7 million barrels a day and oil production is at the lowest it has been in 28 years. This raises the question to why are they producing less oil than ever before when this is what drives its economy? To have control over a mass group of people, one has to take the economic power away from them. That appears to be what President Maduro is doing. The one thing that holds this economy steady is oil. If Venezuela drills less oil, there will be less oil to distribute, which requires less people’s support, resulting in less jobs. Ultimately, the country is not making money overall and this leads to a decrease in the GDP.
There is a huge correlation between a democracy and the GDP. Political scientist, Adam Przeworski and Fernando Limongi state that “the probability that a democracy will die during any particular year in a country with a GDP above $4,000 is zero in a thousand years.” At the time when Venezuela was “partly free” in 2016, the GDP was at $16,614.50 nationwide*, well above the theory of Przeworski and Limongi. So how does President Maduro take control? He takes the number one resource which is oil and pumps less oil to make the economy and GDP crash. That is how he takes control. Democracies are strong when the GDP is higher and authoritarian regimes are more likely to happen when the GDP is lower. Now, Maduro has a grip on the nation.
In addition to President Maduro using his power to manipulate the GDP value, I would not be surprised if the private oil companies are working hand and hand with the President so that he can maintain control. Transparency is weak when it comes to natural resources in this country. There is no system of checks and balances, so corruption can be easily executed. He may be lobbying private companies and buying them off in order for them to help him maintain control. This is not the only area where President Maduro flexes his authority. He also has great influence over the government.
Currently, the people of Venezuela do not have any control of what is going on in their country. President Maduro controls the media and people cannot protest because they will face up to 30 months in prison for defamation of the president or even worse, death. He has killed and jailed hundreds of people in the nation for protesting against him. Starting in 2014 when Hugo Chavez died, Maduro started cracking down on journalist and reporters for reporting what was happening in the country. They stopped in fear of retaliation. Freedom of speech and press are guaranteed under the Venezuelan constitution, but are not guaranteed under the leadership of President Maduro.
Scare tactics and manipulation were also used to control the mass of Venezuelans. In July of 2017, President Maduro hosted an election that was not free and definitely not fair. He would throw his opposing politicians in prison, which is unconstitutional and tyrannical. He would also use government money for television ads and for ruling party candidates. When it came down to election time, Maduro would move voting stations around from their original locations at the last minute to cause confusion among people who tried to vote against him. When they protested and raid the streets, they would be harmed, killed, or jailed*. President Maduro would not have monitored voting in some rural places in the country and if there were voting stations that had opposing monitors he would have them removed by brute force so that he could rig voting. Maduro had 54% of the popular vote and won 17 out of 23 states including one of Venezuela’s biggest state where most of the population in the country are. Stated in the Washington Post, “President Nicolas Maduro’s ruling United Socialist Party swept to a stunning victory.” This was obviously a rigged election by the government because during his term as president, he only has had between a 17%-22% popularity rating which is subpar as a leader.
People may just think that there should be some kind of checks and balances system in place to minimize President Maduro’s power. Perhaps, the judiciary system should check him and the police force or military should take him down. Unfortunately, the system is corrupt and is on his side. Since he has been in office, he has appointed new judges that agree with him and his policies. These new judges are making decisions that gives him more authority to change the constitution that gives him more executive power which can bring him closer to running a true dictatorship more than ever before.
Although Venezuela is still technically considered a democracy, it has been eroding under Maduro’s presidency. From finessing the production of oil which is the country’s main resource, to affecting the GDP values, to abusing his power and using fear and influence to maintain control. Some may say that these things may not be a factor in the dictatorship that President Maduro is metamorphosing into, but with evidence from many sources, all fingers seem to point to this fact. If this is not an example of democratic erosion, then I do not know what is.
Przeworski, Adam, and Fernando Limongi. “Modernization: Theories and Facts.” World Politics, vol. 49, no. 02, 1997, pp. 155–183., doi:10.1353/wp.1997.0004.
ADJA MAGETTE HUDSON FAYE
I also analyzed Maduro and Venezuela, and I think that you make very interesting point about Maduro’s strategies of controlling the people. The issue of Venezuela’s oil production during Maduro’s presidency definitely can be seen as a way for Maduro to control the people economically. As you discussed, GDP and democracy have a relationship, and if the economic situation in Venezuela improved, then there could be even more of a powerful push to restore democracy. Maduro has no incentives to democratize because he benefits the most from retaining power through authoritarianism and keeping the masses weak. In regard to the election, you discussed how Marudo used scare tactics to sway the votes of the people or blatantly restricting their right to vote. This is definitely another way in which he has control over the people. You also made the claim that democracy is eroding under Marudo’s presidency. I definitely agree with this statement, but it can also be noted that democracy started to deteriorate under Chavez, where he limited checks and balances to the president, restrained the media, and manipulated the courts. It could be that Marudo capitalized off of Chavez’s faults, as if he had a pathway to further bring down democratic institutions.