“The author’s views represented in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy.”
In order to understand Venezuela’s current situation, it is necessary to discuss the complications and the interconnections of the crisis the country is facing, for it involves democracy, security, food shortage, and the fragile state of its economy. Despite the great potential that Venezuela has shown twenty or twenty-five years ago as an emerging power in the region, now, much due to the combination of socialist-oriented policies and decreasing oil prices, the South American country faces what is possibly the worst crisis in its history.
The Venezuelan crisis has reached an international level of engagement and is now part of the agenda of the United Nations’ Security Council. The deepest repercussion, however, is felt at the level of the Organization of American States (OAS). As an international organization that pushes for democracy and human rights in the region, it is also the major forum dealing with this issue which involves several regional actors. The end of José Miguel Insulza’s tenure as Secretary General of the OAS in May of 2015 led to a much stronger response of the OAS to the issues surrounding the Venezuelan regime. Luis Almagro, Insulsa’s successor, has raised his voice against several human rights violations and anti-democratic actions in Venezuela. By doing so, he has turned a strictly national issue into a regional one. He has proposed to debate the situation in another level, by agreeing to meet victims and political opposition leaders and even acknowledging that there is a ‘fundamental lack of democracy’ within Maduro’s regime.
The tide is turning and the attitude towards the Venezuelan democratic deficit is changing. At the beginning of Chavez’s regime, there was a clear wave of populism in the region with allies such as Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia or Ecuador. These left-wing governments supported Chavez’s government and policies. Now the situation has changed with a new wave of right-inclined presidencies like Michel Temer, in Brazil, or Macri, in Argentina. Lenin Moreno is the successor of Rafael Correa in Ecuador, but it is not yet clear where he stands on the Venezuelan situation. Meanwhile, Evo Morales, in Bolivia, still remains loyal to Chavez’ legacy. Another significant factor affecting Venezuela in its regional politics level is the term of the new President of the United States, Donald Trump. He has continuously shown a very strong position against Maduro´s regime in high-profile forums such as General Assembly of the United Nations.
The regime has, however, a tool that can be used politically to keep some allied close. Venezuelan oil still supports Petro Caribe and helps Caribbean islands to advance in terms of development at low or no cost at all. This has been systematically used to make those states dependent and compelled to vote alongside the Venezuelan government in the OAS, factor which has been blocking any possible sanctions the organization could take against Venezuela. There have been several occasions in the past when the OAS tried and failed to deliver responses to the Venezuelan crisis. Now, thanks to the changing international relations’ factors mentioned above, the situation might lead to a regime change and to more tangible actions. This tense situation could lead to the application of the Inter-American Democratic Charter (although Maduro´s government announced their withdrawal from the organization in spite of the relative success of the strategy of a close economic relationship with the Caribbean States).
In the national level, the situation has also escalated quickly. The elections for the new National Constitutional Assembly called by President Nicolas Maduro made very clear that the Electoral National Council (CNE by its Spanish initials) was biased. The company “Smart Matic”. which is in charge of the electoral process, declared that the electoral result was tampered with by at least one million votes. The absence of strong institutions and rule of law within Venezuela and, more specifically, the electoral results led to several responses from some important actors such as the Secretary-General Almagro, opposition leaders, and parties. This fundamental lack of trust in the partiality and credibility of the CNE resulted in disagreements about whether or not the opposition should present candidates for the election. This resulted in a huge abstention on Election Day and the victory of Maduro’s candidates was overwhelming.
In the last weeks, the Venezuelan government established that the presidential election will be scheduled to the end of April, according to Diosdado Cabello on the National Constitutional Assembly session. Some countries from the “Lima Group” (Argentina Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Panamá, Paraguay, and Peru) and the United States already declared they will not assent the result from the upcoming presidential election. Regardless of that, Maduro has already started his electoral propaganda and some opposition parties have already pointed out their intention to participate in these elections.
The question remains: what will happen during the next presidential elections in 2018 taking into account the divided opposition, the unreliable electoral rules, and the oil and financial crisis? It will also be interesting to observe how the OAS and Secretary General Luis Almagro will react to the electoral outcome, especially since several of Maduro´s regime leaders declared that they will refuse to give up power in a democratic and peaceful way.