Venezuela: uprising, referendum or coup?


Popular uprising? Recall referendum? Coup d’état? Associated Press asks:

Venezuela’s economic meltdown has become so dire that few political analysts believe President Nicolas Maduro will manage to finish his term, which ends in 2019. Instead, their speculation now centres on when and how the leader of Venezuela’s socialist government will be removed from power.

“There is a sense, even among government supporters, that Maduro is driving the revolutionary project off a cliff,” said David Smilde, a sociology professor at Tulane University in New Orleans who specializes in Venezuela. “His policies have just torn apart the economy.”

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles (right) is clear about how to stop the economic, political and social disaster unfolding in Venezuela, which has led to renewed clashes on the streets of Caracas this month. “The crisis Venezuela is living won’t be solved with Maduro in office, with this system in place,” the former presidential candidate told the Financial Times:

After he narrowly lost a disputed election to Mr Maduro three years ago, and following deadly protests that rocked the country in 2014, the moderate Mr Capriles lost ground to the fiery opposition leader Leopoldo López (left), who is now in prison after urging frustrated Venezuelans to take to the streets.

As the recall referendum to remove Mr Maduro advocated by Mr Capriles gains ground, analysts say the two opposition leaders are tied in popularity. “He is back in the game, and very much so. His bet is paying off,” said Luis Vicente León, a leading pollster.

“Capriles took the more realistic avenue, the best of the options: to make people sign, then vote, and finally press for their rights.” said Mr León. “But with repression here it’s tricky. If the opposition doesn’t apply pressure, there won’t be a recall vote, if it pressures too much and things blow, there won’t be one either.”

But Maduro, a 53-year-old former union worker who narrowly won election in 2013 after the death of Hugo Chávez, still holds many of the levers of power, The Miami Herald notes.

“Despite Venezuela’s unrelenting economic and humanitarian crises, it is not inconceivable that Maduro will remain in office until the end of his term,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue. “The opposition remains relatively weak and divided, unable to capitalize on its majority in the national assembly to drive the country’s political dynamics and policy agenda.”

According to an analyst from the Basel Institute on Governance, more than $350bn has vanished from Venezuela’s treasury during the “revolution”. Government officials, including many in the military, know that handing power to the opposition will lead to investigations and prosecutions, The Guardian adds.

As much as President Maduro would like to blame the United States in some fevered conspiracy, the truth is that Venezuela’s fragile institutional conditions and brewing popular crisis stem from the neglect of the regional community, not the gringos to the north, note analysts Amy Williams and Chris Sabatini – a former Latin America program officer at the National Endowment for Democracy:

For years, countries such as Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Argentina have stood on the sidelines as, first, President Hugo Chávez and, later, Nicolás Maduro, systematically dismantled the checks and balances of democratic governance, squeezed human rights and corrupted the state.

An ideal situation would be to establish an international coalition that manages to sanction government officials in a targeted way and at the same time help the people of Venezuela survive the torment of hunger and violence, analyst Luis Fleischman writes for The Americas Report. If we remain indifferent, somebody else will intervene as happened in Syria and our credibility and moral authority will be emasculated for years and perhaps decades to come, he adds.

Venezuela Today: A Conversation with Bernardo Álvarez (left)

Thursday, May 26, 2016, 9:00 – 10:00 am
Inter-American Dialogue (1211 Connecticut Avenue, NW, Suite 510, Washington, DC)

As Vice Minister for North America at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Bernardo Álvarez is the most senior Venezuelan diplomat in Washington. He has been a prominent figure in US-Venezuelan relations for over a decade, serving as Ambassador of Venezuela to the US from 2003 to 2010. He has also served as Secretary General of ALBA and President of PDV Caribe. He joins the Dialogue for a frank discussion about the state of affairs in Venezuela at this pivotal moment and will share thoughts about the challenges ahead and how his country can work towards constructive solutions. His remarks will be followed by an open exchange with participants.

Join the conversation on Twitter at #VenezuelaToday and @The_Dialogue.

Speaker: Bernardo Álvarez, Ambassador of Venezuela to the OAS

Moderator: Michael Shifter, President, Inter-American Dialogue


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