Maduro’s ‘sticking power’: Venezuela shows problems of countering backsliding


Credit: Wikimedia

The recent history of Venezuela shows that neither domestic opposition nor the international community are always able to push back on the retreat from democracy, according to Geoffrey Macdonald, the Principal Researcher for Democracy and Governance at the International Republican Institute, and David Sands, a Program Director in IRI’s Middle East and North Africa division. This is due at least in part to an inadequate understanding of the indicators and process of backsliding, which delays countervailing action as the process unfolds, they write for Open Democracy.

Some investors in Venezuelan debt are becoming more convinced that socialist leader Nicolas Maduro will stick around Miraflores Palace a good while longer as the U.S. sanctions that pushed him toward default do little to damage his political standing at home, Bloomberg reports:

Credit: Wikimedia

With opposition parties in disarray, Maduro should be able to win re-election next year, according to money managers and strategists including Stone Harbor Investment Partners and JPMorgan Chase & Co. That may be a good thing for investors in the shortest-term debt, as he’s seen as far more likely than any potential replacement to make payments at least through 2018, even as foreign reserves dwindle.

“He could win democratic elections and then go back to the international community and say, ‘I was elected by the Venezuelan people. You have to respect me,”’ said Ray Zucaro, chief investment officer at Miami-based RVX Asset Management, who holds Venezuelan debt. “I don’t think this is his end.”


A general appointed at the weekend to run Venezuela’s energy sector will name more military officers to senior management posts at state oil company PDVSA as part of a shakeup the government says is aimed at fighting corruption, two company sources told Reuters on Monday.

This is a game changer for international oil companies, CNBC adds. If political and reputational risk could get any higher for oil companies, this is it, said Raul Gallegos, an analyst with the consultancy Control Risks.

The 12 months of 2005 were a microcosm of both the accelerating Bolivarian project and the political blunders of the opposition, notes analyst Christopher Sabatini (left). The sixth year of Hugo Chávez’s administration brought further consolidation of executive power over the Venezuelan state, economy and media, while the opposition stood and watched. In retrospect it almost looks like the two sides were complicit.  They weren’t, but no one could blame you for thinking so, he writes for Caracas Chronicles:

From my perch at the National Endowment for Democracy and later knowing opposition leaders, I had the frustrating privilege of watching the train wreck that passed for the opposition’s calculations—first in denouncing without evidence the 2004 referendum results and later coercing members to abstain from the 2005 legislative elections—against the backdrop of an accelerating Bolivarian project hell-bent on gaining absolute control over the Venezuelan state and economy.  

U.S. support for democracy may have been inconsistent, historically, but since the end of the Cold War, the United States and Latin America had increasingly partnered to support democracy, including agreeing to take collective action to defend it in the form of the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001, notes Harold Trinkunas, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings’ Latin America Initiative and Deputy Director of the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute. But today, it is hard to imagine that any Latin American leader is deterred by the thought of U.S.-led regional sanctions or other costs, should they decide to perpetuate themselves in power extra-constitutionally, he writes.

In the end, the opposition’s refusal to play in an election it was likely to lose had three powerful consequences, notes Sabatini:

  • First, it reinforced the impression among international observers and Human Rights advocates that the opposition was, at best, hopeless in trying to advance a constructive, positive agenda, or tenuously committed to the democracy it claimed defend. The unexpected and clumsy decision snatched international sympathy from the jaws of defeat.
  • Credit: Wikimedia

    Second, the 2005 legislative elections were the last in which Venezuela allowed credible election monitors. Both the OAS and the EU had teams on the ground before and during the process. Such groups should have been the opposition’s best allies in guaranteeing the integrity of the process, but the opposition raised a series of demands that appear now in retrospect to have been a ruse to justify not participating in elections they would lose. The majority of elections in Venezuela since have been observed by partial, non-credible and technically unqualified international groups.  

  • Third, and most damning, was that the state was effectively given over to Chávez.  With no opposition candidates on the ballot, pro-government parties won all of the seats. In the words of John Polga-Hecimovich, by refusing to contest the elections, the opposition gave “Chávez the luxury of a parliamentary supermajority and law-making carte blanche for a five-year period”. They all yielded the last remaining check on presidential power to the governing party. RTWT

Plea for action: A conversation with Venezuelan opposition leader Antonio Ledezma [left – a recipient of the NED’s 2015 Democracy award].

Cohosted at AEI with Americas Society/Council of the Americas

Wednesday, November 29, 2017 | 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm

AEI, Auditorium,  1789 Massachusetts Avenue NW,  Washington, DC 20036


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