A humanitarian crisis can be defined as “an event or series of events that represents a critical threat to the health, safety, security, or wellbeing of a community or other large group of people, usually over a wide area”. By virtue of mentioning this definition, we might associate it to the situation of our region of interest Venezuela. This article aims to clarify the background details behind this association.
Democracy in Venezuela started in 1958, a time when major political parties came to sign what was called El Pacto Social (Punto Fijo), or the Social Pact. They agreed in this document to share power in order to terminate a military dictatorship that was in place at the time. Venezuela had acquired what many other countries in Latin America did not have in the latter half of the 20th century – democracy. However, as these parties became associated with more power as time progressed, their accountability to the people and thus their efficacy in serving has been said to decline.
Hugo Chavez had already been associated with the people in the late 1990s after an attempted failed coup on his part, having been pardoned later. His popularity rising, he won elections by a large margin by 1999. Proposing a far-left ideology, the country became heavily polarized between the people who largely supported him and the elites and upper classes who did not. This contrasted with his vice-president Maduro’s rule (post his death) who had implemented authoritarian principles. During the political uncertainty of Maduro’s rule, the exchange-control system guiding national imports became largely non-functional as the black-market price for the dollar began to spiral out of control, coupling in with the ever-volatile oil prices. Maduro’s tenure became marked with political rigidity and a reluctance to take difficult but necessary decisions – modifying or scrapping the exchange-control system, garnering international support for his government, etc. Having promised a shakeup of cabinet members (what he called “El Gran Sacudon”), he failed to act as most notable members were retained.
It posed an interesting situation – while Maduro lacked political manoeuvrability arguably unlike Chavez, both of their actions had deepened the divide between the social classes. And in 2018, after the opposition boycotted elections, the voter turnout was only 46% leading to questions regarding its legitimacy.
Leftism was not new to Latin America. Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay and more had experienced these policies. However, Chavez’s Bolivarian Revolution seemed to seek a more radicalized Venezuela – with regional self-sustenance ranging from development banks to other societal institutions; keeping up with Simon Bolivar’s visions. This shift towards the left had stopped due to drops in prices of important commodities like petroleum and agricultural products leading to further doubt upon the current government’s stability.
Maduro’s following has been declining as a result. His approval ratings are said to be ≈20%; around 10% lower than their previous values. If reports are accurate – people from all classes and even former supporters of Maduro were present in demonstrations demanding his resignation.
Juan Guaido, on the other hand, has the support of most of Latin America and has the potential to bring confidence into the right. Having also garnered the support of leftists in general (including some of those who lost confidence in the Maduro administration) he may outwardly seem like a good presidential candidate. The main issue is legality – would he be allowed to contest elections he helped conduct as interim president? Would his acceptance rates to foreign parties allow for stable bilateral relations?
It’s also pertinent to consider the stances of the USA, Russia and China. The USA’s history with interventions starting with Guatemala in 1954 followed by a host of nations, along with extradition policies have arguably rendered USA the “imperial power” in the region. Moreover, many believe the USA to be a major factor to the deteriorating economy, due to sanctions against PDVSA (the state-owned oil company), and prohibition of repatriation of US-based companies like CITGO. The USSR having already directly intervened in Cuba in 1961 and consequently becoming instrumental to its stability (and also aiding several others like Nicaragua via trade) also has leverage over the region politically speaking. China has recently become one of the top importers of Latin American goods and is a major beneficiary for Ecuadorian and Venezuelan oil and petroleum. Thus, we cannot understate its importance.
Perhaps, could socialism be a root cause for the political scenario? History has not a dearth of examples of failed socialist and/or communist regimes. As said by President Trump during his 2017 UN General Assembly address: “The problem in Venezuela is not that socialism has been poorly implemented, but that socialism has been faithfully implemented.” While this is more subjective than the other factors elucidated above, there has been criticism against media for downplaying Venezuela’s administration as “populist” or “a welfare-state”.
What can contribute most meaningfully to the stability of Venezuela? In order to decide a more well-received administration than the current one, a clear and drawn-out settlement negotiation (which also reduces the disparity in social classes) may be a good way forward. In the past, significant unbiased third parties have played the roles of mediators and possibly the Pope could play this role in this situation. Having respected the internal politics of the country by not making a dichotomous stance on Juan Guaido, he may very well be instrumental to a solution. Many facts need to be set straight – the lapses of past governments, the reasons for economic instability, trade relations with neighbouring states and more. Some questions remain unanswered, and ideation for solutions and answers to them only raises more questions. How do we ensure to satiate both right-wing and leftwing stakeholders like the USA and ex-supporters of Chavez and Maduro? What does the road immediately forward look like; what are the immediate needs to bring together a settlement negotiation and how do we achieve them with highly limited resources? What is the legal situation behind Guaido’s presidential position in the long run?
By Anirudh TK