Venezuela’s opposition ‘hits wall’ of institutional Chavismo


Venezuela’s opposition moved quickly on its electoral promise to press for sweeping change after its legislative election victory, but quickly hit a wall, Bloomberg reports:

That wall was built with 15 years of ring-fencing by the “Chavismo,” which left all other vital Venezuelan institutions — the armed forces, the courts and most of the news media, plus the budgets to keep them going — firmly in the hands of the Miraflores Palace.

“Venezuela has seen dictators and autocrats, but it’s different when one party controls all the levers of power at the same time, as is now the case,” said New York University historian Alejandro Velasco.

It’s no help that Maduro’s factious opponents have yet to come up with compelling alternatives to the political and economic calamity engulfing the country, Mac Margolis continues:

In a landmark meeting last month, the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a multiparty opposition alliance, sat down to draw up a common strategy. One camp called for more street protests and Maduro’s resignation. Another proposed a constitutional amendment to reduce his term to four years from six, while a third pushed for a recall referendum to remove him from office. Instead of agreeing on a unified approach, “they decided to pursue all options at the same time,” said David Smilde, a Venezuela expert at the Washington Office on Latin America.

The lack of consensus played into official hands. “No one accuses Maduro of political genius,” said Michael Shifter of the Inter-American Dialogue, a think tank. “But he’s proven himself more able than people imagined.”

In Venezuela, as in other countries in the region heavily dependent on the international price of commodities, social groups that increased their income during the recent oil boom are now suffering from the change of the cycle and the wrong policies that have resulted in high, and largely unproductive, public spending and massive debt, notes Manuel Hidalgo, professor of political science at the Universidad Carlos III in Madrid, and a contributor to the National Endowment for Democracy‘s Journal of Democracy.

In the last 25 years, the country has been through some other critical economic and social situations leading to greater inequalities and poverty (for example, in 1989, 1992, 1996 and 2003). This time, however, the severity of the crisis brings into question the likelihood of a rapid recovery of the middle class, even in the event of a new favorable oil cycle in the short term, Hidalgo writes for Open Democracy.

An August-September 2015 survey by the multi-university, Caracas-based social and economic research project Encovi found that 87% of those polled reported that they did not have sufficient income for food, notes analyst Mary Anastasia O’Grady:

Their privation is a result of artificially holding down prices, which creates shortages. Consumers are forced to scurry about black markets looking for what they need and then pay dearly for it—if they can. They face killer inflation which, according to the central bank, was 180.9% on an annual basis in the fourth quarter of 2015, up from 82.4% in the first quarter of last year.

[T]he Venezuelan people will be grateful for these international efforts since their despair is making them more and more impatient to see the Bolivarian government gone, analyst Luis Fleischman writes:

There should be no fear of populist and socialist demagoguery anymore. Using U.S and international influence to speed the end of the Venezuelan agony will be an act of human compassion and it is in the interests of the United States and the region as a whole.

Though seven of 10 Venezuelans want to see the back of Maduro, that approval rating is almost enviable in a region where national leaders, from Chile’s Michelle Bachelet to Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, are in disgrace, and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff is on the verge of being impeached, notes Venezuelan blogger Francisco Toro, at Caracas Chronicles.

Venezuelans aren’t blind to their leader’s failings, they’re just bludgeoned by a crisis so relentless it’s made dysfunction one of life’s constants. “People are tired, but also so used to privation and standing in line that it’s almost as if they expect nothing to work well,” said Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

The Venezuelan Crisis at a Turning Point: Future Prospects

Please join a panel discussion on the current dynamics and possible directions of the crisis in Venezuela. The panel will assess the country’s economic collapse, humanitarian crisis, political tensions, and the situation of political prisoners.


Diana Lopez (right), Activist, Accion por la Libertad, Sister of Leopoldo Lopez (above left), prisoner of conscience

Hilda Ochoa-Brillembourg, Founder and Chairman, Strategic Investment Group

Hector Schamis, Georgetown University, Adjunct Professor, El Pais, Columnist


Carlos Ponce, Director for Latin America, Freedom House

Thursday, May 26, 2016

12:30 p.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Lunch will be served at noon

Freedom House

1850 M St NW

Suite 1100

Washington, DC 20036


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