The Crisis in Venezuela is the socioeconomic crisis that Venezuela has undergone since Hugo Chávez’s tenure and which extended over the years into the current presidency of Nicolás Maduro. During the year 2016, for example, consumer prices rose 800%, the economy contracted by 18.6%, and hunger escalated to the point that the “Venezuela’s Living Conditions Survey” (ENCOVI) found nearly 75 percent of the population had lost an average of at least 8.7 kg (19.4 lb) in weight due to a lack of proper nutrition. The murder rate in 2015 was 90 per 100,000 people according to the Observatory of Venezuelan Violence (compared to 5 per 100,000 in the US).
The crisis affected the average life of Venezuelans on various levels; the rise of unemployment, which resulted in the emergence of social movements aimed at changing the economic and productive model, as well as questioning the political system and demanding a democratic renewal. The most important social movement is the Venezuelan student movement,which has arisen mainly due to precariousness and economic conditions. Political corruption, scarcity of basic products, closure of companies, deterioration of productivity and competitiveness, and high dependence on oil are other problems that have also contributed to the worsening crisis.
Corruption in Venezuela is high according to Transparency International’s (TNI) Corruptions Perceptions Index and is prevalent throughout many levels of Venezuela’s society. In the case of Venezuela, the discovery of oil in the early twentieth century has worsened political corruption. While corruption is difficult to measure reliably, Transparency International currently ranks Venezuela among the top 20 most corrupt countries, tied with four other countries as the 8th most corrupt nation in the world. A 2014 Gallup poll found that 75% of Venezuelans believed that corruption was widespread throughout the Venezuelan government. Discontent with corruption was cited by opposition-aligned groups as one of the reasons for the 2014 Venezuelan protests.
Ongoing clash between ruling party and opposition party
There is an ongoing clash between the ruling party and the opposition party in Venezuela, the later alleging that the government has become autocratic and it has already brought the economy on the verge of ruin. The people are coming on roads in protest against the withdrawal of many of the welfare programmes of the leftist government in the wake of falling oil prices, the main source of income. The ruling party feels that the protests have been incited by external forces; especially the USA and opposition party is plying into their hands. The population of Venezuela is divided into pro-left and anti- left groups.
People’s protest in Venezuela
Tension in Venezuela is on the rise and there has been a wave of anti-government protests and dozens of people have been killed in protest-related violence since April 2017. Venezuela is split into Chavistas, the name given to the followers of the socialist policies of the late President Hugo Chavez, and those who cannot wait to see an end to the 18 years in power of his United Socialist Party (PSUV). After the socialist leader died in 2013, Nicolas Maduro, also of the PSUV, was elected president on a promise to continue Mr Chavez’s policies. Chavistas praise the two men for using Venezuela’s oil riches to markedly reduce inequality and for lifting many Venezuelans out of poverty.
But the opposition says that since the PSUV came to power in 1999, the socialist party has eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy. Chavistas in turn accuse the opposition of being elitist and of exploiting poor Venezuelans to increase their own riches. They also allege that opposition leaders are in the pay of the United States, a country with which Venezuela has had fraught relations in recent years. Mr Maduro has not been able to inspire Chavistas in the same way his predecessor did. His government has furthermore been hampered by falling oil prices.
Oil accounts for about 95% of Venezuela’s export revenues and was used to finance some of the government’s generous social programmes which, according to official figures, have provided more than one million poor Venezuelans with homes. The lack of oil revenue has forced the government to curtail its social programmes, leading to an erosion of support among its core backers. The lack of oil revenue has forced the government to curtail its social programmes, leading to an erosion of support among its core backers.
How the recent crisis arose
A series of events has further heightened tensions between the government and the opposition and led to renewed street protests. Key was the surprise announcement by the Supreme Court on 29 March that it was taking over the powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The opposition said that the ruling undermined the country’s separation of powers and took Venezuela a step closer to one-man rule under President Nicolas Maduro. The court argued that the National Assembly had disregarded previous Supreme Court rulings and was therefore in contempt. While the Supreme Court reversed its ruling just three days later, distrust of the court did not subside.
There are violent attacks on government installations in recent times in Venezuela. Recently (August 6, 2017) a group of 20 people in military uniforms attacked Fort Paramacay military base in the city of Valencia, in Carabobo state. They stole weapons and recorded a video of themselves. One Captain Juan Caguaripano who was part of the attacking squad, said that their action was “not a coup d’etat”. This was a civic and military action to re-establish constitutional order.” He added that ” more than that, it was to save the country from total destruction.” This represents the feeling in the opposition camp.
The government camp expressed its perception on attack immediately. To the government and its supporters, this attack was a proof that “the black hand of imperialism”, as foreign minister Jorge Arreaza described it in a tweet, is trying to overthrow the government. President Maduro regularly blames foreign powers in general, and the US and neighbouring Colombia in particular, for everything from Venezuela’s dire economic situation to the shortages of staple goods. Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino called it “a terrorist paramilitary-type attack”, which according to him was “immediately repelled”. He also said that those who carried out the attack were “civilian delinquents, dressed in military garb” and a lieutenant who had deserted months earlier. According to Gen Padrino, those detained confessed to having been “hired by activists from the extreme right with foreign connections”.
Venezuela’s chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega was sacked on August 05, 2017. It was one of the first decisions taken by the constituent assembly, sworn in the day before. Ms Ortega has been a thorn in the side of the government since the end of March, when she openly criticised the Supreme Court for its ruling stripping the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its powers. She has also denounced the constituent assembly as unconstitutional and publicly contradicted versions given by government officials about how protester Juan Pablo Pernalete was killed. The fact that the decision to remove her from office was unanimous suggests that the members of the constituent assembly are closely aligned with the government. It also suggests that the new assembly sees its duties as much more far reaching than just rewriting the constitution. Ms Ortega, however, has refused to recognise the decision by the constituent assembly, which she says is illegal, and insists she continues to be Venezuela’s chief prosecutor. There is likely to be a stand-off between Ms Ortega and the newly-named chief prosecutor Tarek William Saab. Meanwhile, influential politicians allied with the government have called for her to stand trial and the Supreme Court is currently weighing up whether there are grounds to charge her for allegedly “violating public ethics”. Opposition leaders fear that the fact that the constituent assembly acted so quickly to sack Ms Ortega means they will also vote in favour of other measures government officials have threatened, such as lifting legislators’ immunity from prosecution.
When the constituent assembly first met on August 5, the influential deputy leader of the governing socialist party, Diosdado Cabello, suggested it should meet for two years rather than six months as originally planned. The constituent assembly has more powers than any other body in Venezuela. While a constituent assembly is normally created to rewrite an existing constitution or draft a new one, this assembly has already shown that it sees its powers as being much wider, such as sacking the chief prosecutor.The constituent assembly and its president, Delcy Rodriguez, will therefore play a key role in Venezuelan politics. It is already meeting in the legislative palace and critics fear it wants to replace the existing legislative branch, which also meets in the same building. As the opposition did not field any candidates, the constituent assembly is dominated by government loyalists who showed their allegiance by waving pictures of former President Hugo Chávez at their inauguration. While international leaders have said that they will not recognise the new assembly, its president does not seem bothered by the criticism from abroad, swearing to “defend the homeland from the imperial aggression and the fascist right wing”.
In a November 2016 survey by Datincorp, Venezuelans living in urban areas were asked which entity was responsible for the crisis, with 59% stating that President Chávez (25%), President Maduro (19%) and chavismo (15%) were the causes, while 16% blamed the opposition (10%), entrepreneurs (4%) and the United States (2%). The crisis has led to many problems. Venezuelans are trying to illegally migrate to neighbouring countries in large numbers. The food and medicine shortages, soaring prices, political instability and violence have forced tens of thousands of Venezuelans to flee. They’re now the top asylum seekers in the US, ahead of citizens from China, Mexico, Guatemala and El Salvador. It’s the first time Venezuelans have topped the list. There is a wave of new asylum seekers in the US.
Secondly, many think tanks feel that Venezuela has throttled democracy. President Nicolás Maduro stacked the Supreme Court with his supporters to block any impeachment attempts after the country’s opposition leaders won a majority of seats in the National Assembly in 2015. Then the Maduro-backed Supreme Court briefly attempted to dissolve the National Assembly and acquire its legislative powers, sparking a wave of protests that have continued almost daily since March. More than 100 people have been killed. Last week the country held a controversial — and disputed — election to create a new lawmaking body, the Constituent Assembly. The 545-seat legislative body, filled with Maduro’s supporters, would have the power to rewrite the country’s 1999 constitution and effectively place all branches of Venezuela’s government under Maduro’s control.
Is there any way out
It does not seem to proceed on a reconciliation path for the time being. There is shortage of necessities, rising prices and unemployment, cut in welfare expenditure etc., which does not auger well for the country. There may be an iota of truth in US meddling in the political affairs of Venezuela, but how can the country answer to its people about human rights violation, authoritarian and high handed changes made by the government and prospects of further deterioration in the economy. Reconciliation does not seem to happen in near future, and people may suffer more in the ideological battle in the country.