Venezuela, officially the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, is a federal republic located on the northern coast of South America, best known as the country that was ruled with an iron fist by the communist Hugo Chavez or the country that currently has the largest oil reserves in the entire world. Although having a rather modest economy based around massive oil exports, Venezuela has a history of economic disasters, starting from the 1980’s oil glut that led to an external debt crisis and a long-running economic crisis and going as far as to the present day, when the populist policies boosted by the Venezuelan government have thrown the country into a spiral of economic inequality, massive poverty, hyperinflation and general economic depression.
After the death of Hugo Chavez in march 2013, presidential elections were constitutionally obliged to be called within 30 days in this socialist country, yet the winner was already known – Nicolas Maduro was chosen by Chavez himself as his successor, and thus he was elected with 50.62% of the total votes. Since being elected president, Maduro has ruled Venezuela by decree – as a result of Chavez’s policies and Maduro’s continuation of them, Venezuela’s socioeconomic status declined, with crime, inflation, poverty and hunger increasing on a large scale. Shortages of food and basic products, coupled with decreased living standards have resulted in massive protests starting at the beginning of 2014, protests that have escalated into daily riots nationwide by 2016, calling for Maduro’s resignation.
The loss of popularity experienced by Maduro ever since 2014 have led the opposition-run party „National Assembly” to win in the 2015 elections, only to be met by Maduro’s power-grip over the loyal political bodies, such as the Supreme Court and electoral authority, as well as the military – political bodies that have been used to overrule any legislation proposed by the opposition-led Parliament ever since. Given this, Maduro has been accused of authoritarian leadership, with conventional media describing him as a full fledged dictator, hellbent on keeping the power under his own grip, at the detriment of his own’s people suffering.
So, the question stands – what is really happening in Venezuela nowadays? Tensions are not only on the rise, but have reached peak levels as the opposition and the government accuse each other of trying to stage a coup d’etat. Anti-government protests have been going on for months, dozens of people have been killed in protest-related crimes since April and the country is more divided than ever – 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 the end of the 18 years in power of the United Socialist Party (PSUV) – represented by the „National Assembly” opposition. On the 29th of March, the Supreme Court – under the control of Maduro – announced that it was taking over the powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, in a clear ruling that not only undermines the country’s separation of power, but also brings closer a possible one-man rule under President Nicolas Maduro.
The opposition-backed riots have grown in numbers over the past few weeks and the National Assembly has already made it’s general demands: removal from office of the Supreme Court justices who issued the 29 March ruling; general elections in 2017; creation of a „humanitarian channel” to allow medication to be imported, in order to counter the severe shortages in the country; the release of all the „political prisoners” that have been arrested by the Government ever since the protests began. However, President Maduro has proven again that he’s not willing to give in to the opposition’s demand for early presidential elections – choosing instead to announce the creation of the constituent assembly and call out the opposition as trying to illegally overthrow his elected government, going as far as blaming the country’s problems on an „economic war” that is being waged against him by foreign assets. Further proving that he’s far from sanity, Maduro has also compared the harassment of government officials to what Jews faced during World War II, saying „We are going to defeat the 21st-century Nazis”, essentially portraying all the opposition and the protesters as Nazis that are trying to destabilize Venezuela. „We are the new Jews of the 21st century that Hitler pursued”, Maduro stated during a cabinet meeting.
All in the meanwhile, people are struggling to obtain food, children are dying for lack of basic medicines, trivial things such as toilet paper are being sold at astronomical prices on an emergent black-market, crime has spiked out at unprecedented levels, corruption is running rampant at the higher levels and so forth. The head of the Organization of American States has blamed Nicolas Maduro’s government for Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, accusing him of violating basic democratic principles – „Venezuela should be one of the most prosperous and influential countries in the region. Instead, it is a state mired in corruption, poverty and violence. It is the population who suffers the consequences”, he added.
One thing is for certain – if the political crisis does not get resolved in the upcoming months, the stability of the entire country will totally collapse, leaving behind a humanitarian disaster that can only be compared to what has been happening in Syria over the past few years. Millions of people are at risk – let’s see if Maduro has a conscience after all.