Democracy was a damaged project in Latin America before the current crisis in Venezuela. Military coups d’état and other violent seizures of power in the 1960s and 1970s were followed by weak attempts at re-democratization (Riggirozzi, 2019). In the 1980s oil prices fell, debt skyrocketed in Venezuela. Venezuela was in an economic crisis at the time Hugo Chavez was elected president. Chavez was a populist leader whom led the people of Venezuela with no fixed strategy. According to the World Bank, his social, political and economic reforms led to a spectacular 50% reduction of poverty, and a 65% drop in “extreme poverty” between 1998 and 2012 (Riggirozzi, 2019).
Chavez died on March 5th, 2013 resulting in Nicolas Maduro replacing his presidency. Ever since Maduro assumed the office of President, the country of Venezuela has seen its nationwide poverty rate rise to an estimated eighty-seven percent as of 2017 and its inflation rate increase exponentially since 2016, reaching a record breaking one million percent as of early August 2018 (Ortega, 2018). As a result, hunger has stalked Venezuela for years now and young children are dying because of it. Riots and protests over the lack of affordable food, excruciating long lines for basic provisions, soldiers posted outside bakeries and angry crowds ransacking grocery stores have rattled cities, providing a telling, public display of the depths of the crisis (Herrera, 2017).
Signs of democratic erosion has occurred since the beginning of Chavez’s term through attacks on the press. Under the autocratic leadership of Maduro foreign investment has also declined. One reason investment drops as democracy erodes is because investors fear the government could begin meddling in their businesses in ways that may reduce profits. This is a common strategy of authoritarian leaders from both the right and the left. In Venezuela, the left-wing Maduro has taken over food production in the country, ordering companies like Nestle and Pepsi to vacate their factories in 2015 (Son, 2019). Furthermore, Venezuela’s supreme court took over the legislative powers of the National Assembly on March 29th, 2017. The media outlets considered this strategy to be a move towards authoritarianism and personal dictatorship. This was considered to be called the “constitutional crisis.”
Currently in Venezuela, Juan Guaido, has declared the current government illegitimate and announced himself as the president of the country. Guaido is a 35-year-old electrical engineer and he is the head of the National Assembly. Guaido has stated that he is for free and fair elections when Maduro steps down. President Donald Trump is in backing the opposing leader and recognizing him publicly as the president of Venezuela. More than 60 other countries have also recognized Guaido as the president. Everyone is trying to support Venezuela to put an end to this decline in democracy.
However, there are dozens of countries who are still in support of Maduro such as, China, Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Russia has a particularly large stake in the survival of Maduro’s regime, not only financially, but politically. Russian president Vladimir Putin is providing the country with aid and financial assistance. Maduro’s hard-core support is small: just 14 percent, according to a February survey by the Caracas-based polling company Datanalisis. Guaidó scored 61 percent (Reeves, 2019).
After denying for years that Venezuelans were suffering a humanitarian crisis, the government has allowed the Red Cross to send in medical equipment. An airplane landed in Caracas’s international airport transporting the first in a series of planned shipments of medical supplies and power generators for hospitals that are intended to eventually help 650,000, Venezuelans, according to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Maduro’s government has denied the existence of a humanitarian crises despite the fact the nation was experiencing the deepest economic depression in modern countries not at war. This plan to bring humanitarian aid to Venezuela was from Guadio. Hopefully, Maduro steps down because Guadio is already bringing relief and hope to the people of Venezuela.
Ultimately, Venezuela has a lot of work to do before the country can get back its democracy. Guadio presents himself as being for the people and that he does not have authoritarian tendencies. With the international support, Guadio has a chance of becoming a legitimized political leader and making a shift in history.
Herrera, M. K. (2017, December 17). NY Times. Retrieved from NY Times: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/12/17/world/americas/venezuela-children-starving.html
Ortega, A. (2018, 18 August). The Erosion of Decmocracy in Venezuela. Retrieved from The Yale Globalist: http://tyglobalist.org/onlinecontent/the-erosion-of-democracy-in-venezuela/
Reeves, P. (2019, 25 March). Latin America. Retrieved from National Public Radio: https://www.npr.org/2019/03/25/706635580/venezuelas-maduro-faces-pressure-from-much-of-the-world-yet-he-persists
Riggirozzi, P. (2019, February 14). Venezuala is putting democracy and its legitimacy to test. Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/venezuela-is-putting-democracy-and-its-legitimacy-to-test-111466
Son, N. B. (2019, February 4). Is Authoritarianism Bad for the Economy? Retrieved from Boise State University Scholar Works: https://scholarworks.boisestate.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1189&context=polsci_facpubs
I thought you eloquently tied regime legitimacy to economic prosperity. Hugo Chavez was able to dismantle democratic institutions in Venezuela only under the guise of high oil prices. Venezuela is an oil rich country that depends on gas exports for much of its revenue. The Venezuelan economy only faced ruin after oil prices precipitously. Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver, was at the helm of the government. A severely over regulated and mismanaged economy faced rampant inflation and an increasingly intolerant regime. I thought your point that Juan Guiado would benefit from international support was well founded. Dissidents in socialist countries face structural impediments to revolt, as both political and economic power are concentrated in the central government. Dissidents in capitalist systems face better prospects, as there is a dispersion of economic power that can be wielded against the political forces. I also believe that the Venezuelan people can only have true freedom through international support. China already supports the Maduro regime by selling military vehicles, and there has been ostensible Russian support in the past weeks for the regime. Juan Guiado needs international support if democracy in Venezuela can persist.
Briena, I think your post brings to light a great concern in today’s world. The crisis in Venezuela is of the utmost importance as deciding the correct method of improving their situation is vital for Venezuelan citizens everywhere. An important aspect that you pointed out in your discussion was the separation of sides that the international countries have taken. As you stated, the United States has declared Guiado as the legitimate president of Venezuela, but other countries such as Russia are still endorsing Maduro. My opinion on this situation is that the backing of Guiado by the United States is less about protecting the people’s interest in Venezuela and more about the strategic interests of the United States. The United States is the largest consumer of Venezuelan oil, thus the United States hopes to maintain close ties with Venezuela in order to protect these oil supplies. Furthermore, the Maduro regime seems to be in great danger as civil unrest has led to protest and civilian attempts to oust the president. By backing Guiado, the United States guarantees itself benefits in trade relations with Venezuela. Another interesting aspect of this post is the case of the survival of democracy in Venezuela. In a multitude of ways, Maduro’s exit from rule would bring the people and country peace. However, there is cause of concern that Guiado would follow a similar but less extreme path of his predecessors. He embodies many characteristics of other populist leaders such as charisma and heavy support for the common people. Even further, the economic crisis that resides in Venezuela will make great executive power a must. Therefore, the authoritarian practices of Chavez and Maduro could even be seen under Guiado. When considering the situation it is important to look at all potential outcomes and how they impact the state of democracy in that country.