Venezuela’s failed state: is there light at the end of the tunnel?


“Widespread Blackouts Loom As Venezuela’s Dams Run out of Water” was the ominous headline from the PanAm Post on March 16. And even though the government blames El Niño, engineers apparently have a different take, pinning the blame on “mismanagement of resources, thermal system malfunction, and drought,” reports suggest.

An economic, social and political crisis facing Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s unpopular president, is being aggravated by a rise in violence which is prompting fears that this oil-rich country risks becoming a failed state, the FT’s Andres Schipani writes:

Venezuela is already one of the world’s deadliest countries. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence, a local think-tank, says the murder rate rose last year to 92 killings per 100,000 residents. The attorney-general cites a lower figure of 58 homicides per 100,000…. For many Venezuelans it no longer matters who is to blame. “It is a state policy of letting anarchy sink in,” says a former policeman outside the gates of a compound in Caracas.

In 1998, a year before former leader Hugo Chávez took office, the rate was 19 per 100,000, says the think-tank’s director Roberto Briceño León, adding that after 17 years of socialist “revolution”, it is the poor who make up most of the victims.

“I think it is evident that the Venezuelan state cannot act as a state in many areas of the country, so it could be considered failed,” says Mr Briceño, adding that the state now “lacks a monopoly on violence”.

But the state is indeed to blame for some of that violence, according to a report by advocacy groups Human Rights Watch and the Venezuelan Human Rights Education-Action Programme presented to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

“Venezuelans are facing one of the highest murder rates in the hemisphere and urgently need effective protection from violent crime,” said José Miguel Vivanco HRW’s Americas director. “But in multiple raids throughout the country, the security forces themselves have allegedly committed serious abuses.”

Electricity is hardly the only thing running low in Caracas, the Americas Society/Council of the Americas adds:

Tight currency controls and government subsidies have led to roughshod inflation and shortages of seemingly everything over the last few years, and shortages that have only become more acute in the last year as the economic crisis deepens. Even optimism over the opposition’s legislative win in December is down, as people spend more time and energy tracking down their daily necessities. 

“Failed state is a nebulous concept often used too lightly. That’s not the case with today’s Venezuela,” says Moisés Naím, a Venezuelan distinguished fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace [and a former board member of the National Endowment for Democracy]. “The evidence of state failure is very concrete in the country that sits on top of the world’s largest oil reserves.”

The government usually blames violence within its borders on Colombian rightwing paramilitaries engaged in a war against its revolution, the FT adds. But as David Smilde and Hugo Pérez Hernáiz of the Washington Office on Latin America, a think-tank, recently wrote: “Attributing violence in Venezuela to paramilitary activity has been a common rhetorical move used by the government over the past year, effectively making a citizen security problem into a national security problem.”

To assess the current crisis and share some thoughts on possible political and economic scenarios, the Inter-American Dialogue is pleased to welcome Luis Vicente León, the president of Datanálisis and one of Venezuela’s most respected political observers.

Speaker: Luis Vicente León, President, Datanálisis (@LuisVicenteLeon)

Moderator: Michael Shifter, President, Inter-American Dialogue (@MichaelShifter

04/14/2016 02:00 PM – 03:00 PM ET
Inter-American Dialogue Conference Room
Room Number: Suite 510
1211 Connecticut Ave NW
Washington, DC

Follow this event on Twitter at #VZCrisis and @The_Dialogue.


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