Venezuela: A Country in Crisis?

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8 out of 10 Venezuelan’s live in poverty. The IMF forecasts its hyperinflation to hit an annualised rate of 1 million percent in 2019. Oil output is at an all-time low. Yet somehow, its embattled President Nicolas Maduro retains his post.

The Venezuelan crisis is not just one of statistics. It is a democratic struggle between a dictator and an insurgent, an ideational proxy war between the world’s superpowers and a seemingly perennial economic catastrophe all rolled up into one. None of the problems appear to have an easy fix, yet they do have a common factor: the man that Hugo Chavez chose to be his successor as leader. This is now, for all intents and purposes, Maduro’s crisis.

After winning another term as President in May 2018, in what was an election in name only, the legitimacy of Maduro’s governance has been heavily disputed. After his inauguration this month, newly assumed leader of the main opposition coalition, Juan Guaido, declared himself as the rightful interim president, with the promise of free and fair elections – a move supported by the millions of his supporters now rallying behind him. Maduro, however, refused to relinquish his right to rule, and is backed by the armed forces.

Guaido himself, however popular, is not the reason the Venezuelan crisis has reached a tipping point. Indeed, he was largely unknown on the international stage before this unprecedented move. Rather, the crisis has been escalated to the forefront of the international agenda, by the involvement of foreign powers, The United States at its head, who have issued statements recognising Guaido as the legitimate head of the Venezuelan state. Maduro’s close allies, however, including Russia and China, remain behind him, having declared this another sign of American imperialism. As was the case in Syria, two coalitions split along strict ideological lines and functional goals support differing leaders, with no compromise appearing likely.

The question now is whether this crisis will end in same way the Syrian one did, with armed conflict. Whilst the US looks reluctant to remove Maduro by force (though not ruling it out) they have already begun applying pressure in different ways. Sanctions on Venezuela’s state oil company PDVSA will hurt the Venezuelan economy given the United States remains its foremost trading partner, and oil its most lucrative export.

The sanctions themselves are unlikely to deter Maduro and there is a risk that they will only serve to further hurt the Venezuelan people, without leading to a change in governance. If that does prove to be the case, Maduro’s grasp will tighten, and the plight of his citizens will continue to worsen.
So can this crisis ever be resolved? Guaido has suggested that the only way Maduro could be displaced now through the abandonment of his military commanders, and this appears to be true. Whether the opposition leader can achieve this however is highly questionable. His own security is under threat, as Maduro attempts to reduce his economic and diplomatic power. Guaido may not see the end of the revolution he has begun.

Regardless, it now appears Nicolas Maduro’s reign will come to an end, sooner rather than later. These protests have set into motion events to make the international community take action, and the Venezuelan cries for freedom are unlikely to quieten. The Venezuelan economy cannot survive for much longer, with or without economic sanctions. The only question now appears to be how much longer the people will have to suffer, until they can be rid of Maduro, and begin the long process of rebuilding their broken nation.

Image by Joka Madruga via Flickr

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