Long before the rule of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro, the democracy that began with President Betancourt began to erode. During this time the country enjoyed the rewards of an economically booming and nationalizing oil market. However, with Venezuela’s economic depression in 1989 came riots, general strikes, and the implementation of martial law as the results from the government’s austerity measures in reaction to the economic crisis. These actions are what helped contribute to the lasting democratic erosion of Venezuela in addition to the presence of military coups (1989 and 1992) in the country. As democracy is headed downhill, President Perez who was president from 1974-1979 and 1989-1993 was impeached on accounts of corruption and by 1998 the road was paved for Hugo Chavez to become president.
Hugo Chávez, the central figure of the Venezuelan political landscape since his election to the Presidency in 1998 as a political outsider, died in office in early 2013 and was succeeded by Nicolás Maduro (initially as interim President, before narrowly winning the Venezuelan presidential election, 2013)” (venezuelanalysis.com). While Chavez was in office he had the luxury of an oil-booming economy that allowed him to rule in less than democratic manners without upsetting the citizens because Chavez was spending a lot of money on the poor to gain their support.
With his rule, we see a relaunch of the “Bolivarian Revolution.” This rule gave way for Venezuela to create a new constitution and policies became funded and socialist and populist movements. With Maduro’s rule, there are more obvious forms of non-democratic values being used within the government. Freedom House, for examples, gives really good examples of how current backsliding has occurred in Venezuela.
First, President Nicolás Maduro was reelected in May and most opposition parties and candidates were banned from participating. This is a clear demonstration of their lack of free and fair elections; and, with this re-election, there was a record-low turnout reflected widespread dissatisfaction with the process. Next, the authorities have required citizens to use a special identity card to access social services and subsidized food. This requirement has established the idea amongst the citizens that the authorities were using the cards to monitor voting patterns which are attributing to a growing skepticism and mistrust to Maduro’s government. Also, Venezuelans are suffering from a worsening humanitarian and financial crisis characterized by acute food and medicine shortages, historically high hyperinflation, and rampant crime. Because of this crisis, the United Nations in November announced that over 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country. The Maduro administration continued its crackdown on the political opposition, employing frequent arrests, torture, and temporary disappearances to squash dissent.
With all these examples of democracy backsliding, it is important to understand what foundation allowed for this process to begin. Although Chavez and Maduro hold a strong hand in the erosion of democracy, the foundation that allowed for backsliding occurred before the start of the 20th century.
Referencing an idea brought up by Jose Nino, a Venezuelan-American political activist, and publisher at Mises Institute, “Venezuela’s Fourth Republic marked the beginning of a process of creeping socialism that gradually whittled away at Venezuela’s economic and institutional foundations.” Nino states that the rising poverty rates, increased foreign and public debt, corrupt state enterprises, and burdensome regulations contributed to an environment of growing social tension and economic malaise throughout the 1980s. From his article titled, Venezuela before Chavez in addition to the articles we read in class, Venezuela’s current political state reaffirms the idea that socialism left unchecked will eat away at weak, declining welfare state and democratic erosion will have a path lit for it.