Following the death of extremely popular president of Venezuela Hugo Chavez in 2013, his vice president and handpicked successor Nicolás Maduro was appointed and later narrowly elected President only winning 50.6 percent of the vote. Maduro claimed he would continue his predecessor’s legacy and carry out his goals but has failed miserably yet he has remained president. There was fear that Chavez regime was undemocratic but he was constantly able garner the support of poor and working class Venezuelans to do what he saw as necessary. Maduro’s regime is far worse and borderline Authoritarian.
Venezuela’s once flourishing democracy is under attack and everybody is suffering because of it.To understand the current situation of democratic backsliding in Venezuela we must understand the terminology. Democratic backsliding is “ a decline in the quality of democracy, when it occurs within democratic regimes” (Lust 2). This erosion of democracy and the rise of an authoritarian have certain characteristics that are exhibited by Maduro’s regime. They include: 1) Rejection of the democratic rules of the game, 2) denial of the legitimacy of political opponents 3) toleration of violence and 4) restricting the civil liberties of opponents, including the media (Levitsky and Ziblatt 23-24).
The early warning signs of this is that Maduro barely squeaked out a victory in his first election and he has failed as Chavez’s successor. Chavez was a “charismatic — once-in-a-generation kind of political charmer with an extraordinary ability to persuade people from all different backgrounds to join his cause” (Aleem 2017). When Chavez was in power Venezuela became the richest country in Latin America after oil prices surged in 2004 and its citizens were able to benefit as Chavez fought against wealth inequality and against the elites of the country. Problems began nearing the end of Chavez regime but every aspect of government worsened after Maduro came into power. As Zeeshan Aleem said, “Maduro has not only been less adept at connecting with the public and persuading them of his policies — he’s also had less power within his own administration”; he is no Hugo Chavez.
Through evaluating Maduro’s regime through the lens of Levitsky and Ziblatt’s checklist to identify an authoritarian we can see how Maduro is responsible for taking Venezuela into a dictatorship on the brink of chaos. One of the easiest aspects to identify is how MAduro denies the legitimacy of his political opponents. By rigging elections and having uncontested power he does not allow the opposition to obtain power and if they did have power they can lose it as was the situation in 2015. Two years after he became president a coalition of opposition parties known collectively as MUD managed to garner enough support to get two-thirds of the seats in the legislative national assembly putting Maduro’s power at risk. He denied the legitimacy of the power of his opposition by filling the Supreme Court with people loyal to him. That Supreme Court ordered to strip away the power of the opposition-filled national assembly giving himself absolute power (Aleem 2017).
Another identifiable characteristic is toleration of violence and at some times encouragement of it. There have been daily protests against Maduro for years now which coincides with his abysmally low approval rating being at around 20 percent for years as well. With the recent change of the national assembly there even more increased protesting with some reporters describing it as “intense anti-government demonstrations across the country” (Abadi et al). They also say that “since February 12, 2014, the country has been living under intense political tension marked by protests, violence and repression” (Abadi et al). Thes daily protests against Maduro are violent and he tolerates the violence. And when he does take action it is also in a violent matter by meeting the characteristically anti-government demonstrations with more violence as he is “cracking down on growing street protests with lethal force, with government security forces killing at least 46 demonstrators in recent months” (Aleem 2017).
Building on the events of 2015, Maduro’s actions reveal that he does not play by the democratic rules of the game. He is not a fan of any opposition as visible by his actions of stripping a national assembly with a majority of people against him to a completely new National Constituent Assembly which would be responsible for writing a new constitution for Venezuela and effectively replacing the opposition-majority National Assembly and giving MAduro absolute uncontested power over all branches of government. When it comes to election it is reported that he pushed back the dates to ensure a victory and outright rigs the elections (Aleem 2017). He also blocked an attempt at a referendum to him recalled in 2016. Maduro’s Venezuela is not a democracy of the future vision Chavez had hoped Maduro would carry out.
Maduro is also guilty of restricting the civil liberties of his opponents, including the media. He tosses political opponents in prison and with the recent problems surrounding food, medicine, and the economic crisis due to oil prices dropping he avoids the blame. Maduro shifts the blame to “his enemies and uses the crisis as an excuse to censor the media, subvert civil liberties and seize more power” (Horsey 2017). He infringes on Venezuelans civil liberties which is the final nail in the coffin for the death of democracy in Venezuela.
Maduro is guilty of all of the characteristics of being an authoritarian and the future of Venezuela is uncertain. “ Since late 2014, low oil prices and stifling government regulations on currency have produced huge shortages of those basic items — including food and medicine — and caused the world’s highest inflation” (Aleem 2017). His citizens are suffering and he does not have a plan to help as the economy is in shambles as the country’s wealth came from oil which is currently suffering. There are constant protests against him that can be violent and any opposition continually try to be elected to bring about regime change. And from his previous actions it seems that he only importance is staying in power and he has proved that he is capable and willing to do whatever it takes so Venezuela’s future is uncertain.
-How Democracies Die by Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt: 1st chapter
-Unwelcome Change: Understanding, Evaluating, and Extending Theories of Democratic Backsliding by Ellen Lust
-How Venezuela went from a rich democracy to a dictatorship on the brink of collapse by Zeeshan Aleem : https://www.vox.com/world/2017/9/19/16189742/venezuela-maduro-dictator-chavez-collapse
– Venezuela’s descent into dictatorship shows democracy can be lost by David Horsey:
-Democracy in Venezuela Is a Myth By Anabella Abadi, Barbara Lira, and Richard Obuchi: