Venezuela's Presidential Crisis

BY HANNA BAJWA


Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader, Juan Guaido, take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela.


Venezuela is currently experiencing its eighth year of recession, with hyperinflation reaching nearly 3000 per cent last year. With three-quarters of Venezuelans living in extreme poverty, Venezuela’s economic crisis would be exacerbated in light of the social and political quandaries.


The mismanagement of the country by Maduro’s government has led to numerous difficulties. The US, EU member states, and dozens of other countries have not recognised Maduro’s presidency since the 2018 national elections, despite Maduro’s attempts to build goodwill within the international community. Such means can be seen through his actions of gaining sanction relief, unfreezing foreign funds, and attempting to sell oil to several wealthy nations.


Voting for local and regional elections began in early November, to elect state governors, mayors, and city council members – renewing 335 municipalities and all executive and legislative positions of 23 federal entities. For the first time in three years, the opposition announced its intention to run after boycotting the 2018 and 2020 elections. This was on the basis that a fair vote was impossible due to intimidation and rigging by the incumbent. These claims were proven when pro-government candidates won overwhelmingly - a testament to the unfairness of the elections. The loss at this election for the opposition is a major setback, yet they aim to raise their profile ahead of the presidential elections set for 2024.


In an attempt to help the political situation in Venezuela Maduro’s opposition demanded the presence of 130 international monitors, most of which were from the EU, during their recent elections to ensure fairness. The EU report has revealed a series of irregularities that may have greatly affected elections, such as delays in opening and closing voting centres, unequal access to gasoline as pro-government candidates were favoured, disproportionate positive coverage for the ruling party, and so-called ‘red checkpoints’ used by the ruling party to control voters. To make matters worse, one voter died and two were injured in a shooting outside a polling station in Zulia. This occurrence, despite the efforts of the international observers, seems to show that there is little international observers can do other than be bystanders. Out of the possible 21 million voters, only 8.1 cast their ballot. The role of the international monitors was not to ensure the elections were free and fair but rather to form a set of recommendations that can help improve future electoral processes in Venezuela, the impact and usefulness of which can only be evaluated in 2024 during the presidential elections.


President Maduro has recently declared that the international monitors were ‘spies’ who aimed to discredit the elections, yet their presence was well-received by the majority of Venezuelans. The monitoring of the elections allowed the Venezuelan people and the international community to better assess what is going on in the country, which will help contribute to the final recommendations on how to organise free and fair elections, delivered by 2022. This re-institutionalisation aims to alleviate the social, political, and economic situation in Venezuela and result in a positive change.


Venezuela was November’s second pseudo-democratic exercise in South America this year, the first being Daniel Ortega’s re-election victory in Nicaragua. President Ortega has been in power since 2007, winning with more than 75 percent of the vote after jailing dozens of electoral oppositions and other dissidents. Ortega vowed to withdraw from the Organization of American States, which, when completed, would leave Venezuela and Cuba outside the Pan-American system.


Ortega is viewed by many as a dictator, yet he is not alone. During the pandemic, leaders from Mexico, Brazil, and El Salvador have pushed against checks on presidential power by dismantling freedom of information agencies, vowing to disregard election results, and firing judges on top courts.


Chile also plans for an election in December, having citizens choose between José Antonio Kast, a right-wing populist often compared to Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, and leftist Gabriel Boric, a leader of the 2019 protests. Kast finished first on Sunday with 28 per cent by running on an anti-crime and anti-migration program, and Boric got 26 percent as the head of a coalition that includes Chile’s small Communist Party. In June, Peru saw the electoral win of Pedro Castillo, a union activist from a Marxist party, signalling what may be a shift to the left, not just in Peru but also in Chile, Colombia, and Brazil.


With leftists already running Argentina, Mexico, Venezuela, and Bolivia, this new shift could resemble the ‘pink tide’ at the start of this century, kicked off by Venezuela’s election of Hugo Chávez in 1998. The eventual winners of these elections will determine the course of democracy not only within their individual countries, but by extension of Latin America as a whole.


Image - Flickr (A.Davey)