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Venezuela Today: A Brief Overview

Venezuela has been topping headlines constantly in 2019. If you haven’t stayed caught up on the issues wracking Venezuela’s internal and external affairs, we have put together a brief history as well as links to supporting articles before our community event with Dr. Alejandro Velasco titled “Venezuela: An International Standoff”.

Major Players in the Conflict:

Hugo Chávez: former Venezuelan President elected in 1998; he introduced socialist ideas in Venezuela that led to an ideology dubbed “Chavismo”

Nicolás Maduro: Chávez’s successor who took office in 2013 after Chávez’s death; he was “re-elected” in 2018 by winning a (likely rigged) election by less than two percentage points

Juan Guaidó: Maduro’s main opponent who invoked the constitution to act as interim president and has over fifty other countries supporting him

The United States: where a threat to democracy occurs, the US is not far behind. Maduro frames the US as an imperialistic force while the US brands him an authoritative ruler and backs Guaidó

Maduro (Al Jazeera)
Nicolás Maduro (Photo from: Al Jazeera)

How did this start?
Venezuela went from a flourishing country half a century ago to one of the poorest countries in the world today. Why? Depends who you’re asking.

We’ll begin with former President Hugo Chávez’s reign. During his presidency, Chávez enacted “self-defeating policies” that nationalized essential companies and ventures that were destined for failure: Food production collapsed, water and electricity shortages ensued, and steel and the production of other important resources slowed. Not to mention he cozied up next to former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and looked to him for guidance.

Chávez’s chosen successor, Maduro, has had similar luck. Like Chávez, Maduro has been consolidating power since taking office and the 2014 global drop in oil prices impacted Venezuela unequivocally since its economy heavily relies on oil sales. This led to a crisis consisting of major hyperinflation, enormous debt, food and medicine shortages and millions of Venezuelans emigrating out of the country.

venezuela crisis (HRW)
Family in need of aid (Photo from: Human Rights Watch)

Then what?
Maduro was “re-elected” in 2018 but suspicions of electoral fraud have sparked major protests. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have turned to the streets to pressure Maduro to step down and the US, among other countries, has refused to recognize him as president. Meanwhile, Juan Guaidó has named himself interim president and is backed by over fifty countries.

The regime considers US aid attempts as part of a coup plot and has refused to let it through Venezuela’s shared borders with Colombia and Brazil. Efforts to convince government military to defect led to violent clashes between protesters and Venezuelan security forces along the borders as well.

Maduro is not the only one convinced the US is attempting a coup. Russia and China both vetoed an American resolution in the United Nations Security Council that suggested new elections and unhindered distribution of humanitarian aid in Venezuela. Russia claims that this is just another attempt by America to topple a regime by force.

Millions of Venezuelans are at risk of starvation or life-threatening illness without outside aid. Maduro blames the current economic crisis on imperialism and sanctions imposed by the United States, while opponents blame the regime.

Guaido with Supporteres (NBC)
Juan Guaidó addresses crowd (Photo from: NBC)

And now?
Guaidó spent the end of February and beginning of March traveling to other Latin American countries in attempts to recruit international support in the fight against Maduro before returning back to Venezuela. Guaidó not only entered the country through Simon Bolivar International airport with no resistance from government officials, but also claims immigration officers greeted him with the words “welcome, president”.

The German ambassador to Venezuela, Daniel Kriener, has been expelled from the country after he expressed support for Guaidó by greeting him at the airport; however, Kriener credits the presence of foreign diplomats as the reason Guaidó eluded arrest at his arrival back in Venezuela.

National security adviser John Bolton says the Trump administration will put sanctions on banks that facilitate transactions that could benefit Maduro. This is after the US already sanctioned the state-run oil company and revoked visas of top ranking Venezuelan officials and their relatives.

The government appears to be feeling the effects of the already-in-place sanctions: Reuters reported that the government had taken eight tons of gold from Venezuela’s central bank to sell abroad to raise money.

Most recently (as of March 7), Trump administration officials say there are no plans for the United States to intervene militarily in Venezuela.

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