Why is Venezuela locked in conflict?
'Venezuela's political environment has become increasingly authoritarian.'
Luke Woodmansee | 12 December 2017

Venezuela, situated on the northern coast of South America, is a country in conflict. It has proven oil reserves of 297 billion barrels (4.72×10^10 cubic metres) as of 2014, surpassing both Saudi Arabia and Canada as the most oil-rich country in the world. Although not all of this oil is easily accessible, it still gives Venezuela the potential to have long periods of growth due to the inelastic demand for oil currently. It was once the richest country in Latin America and used to be praised for its democratic government in the late 20th century. Despite this, the country has been locked in a crisis since 2013, when its President Nicolas Maduro was elected. Now, Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world; in the last four years its GDP has fallen by 30%.

Although Venezuela is officially a democracy, its political environment has become increasingly authoritarian. Maduro has consolidated his rule with the removal of the National Assembly in 2015, when a coalition of opposition parties won a two-thirds majority. Subsequently, he ousted the opposition Supreme Court Justices, in March 2016. The Supreme Court then ruled that the national assembly, which had a majority of opposition to Maduro’s party, was to have its powers stripped. This is when the protesting began. The major reason for the crisis is the election which was held on July 30th 2017. This was to elect members to a new National Constituent Assembly. However, the members of the opposition boycotted the election and thus Maduro gained a majority, giving him the power to rewrite Venezuela's constitution and the ability to replace the National Assembly.

The wealthy country has also been hindered from prosperity due to the level of corruption that ensues within its borders. The exchange rate that Maduro’s military personnel and allies receive is significantly more profitable than that of the general population. This has led to the accessibility of medicines and other medical necessities, that were once subsidised, being limited for the general population. The fall in oil prices has meant that the country's deficit has not enabled the government to subsidise health care education and food. This has led to increased protests and violence on the streets, with some of the country’s cities becoming the most violent in the world. According to the Mexico Citizens Council for Public Security's annual ranking of the world's most violent cities, Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, had 119.87 homicides per 100,000 residents.

It seems many of the voters see the election as a fraud and The Economist found that Maduro’s government had lied, saying around 7 million voters went to the polls when in fact it was just 3 million. This essentially creates an illegitimate government and The Guardian states that 40 countries have condemned the election with the US imposing financial sanctions on Maduro’s government.

For a democracy to return to authoritarian rule is not something that has been seen very frequently throughout history. The end of the Cold War in fact, saw countries like Poland, East Germany and Hungary moving in the opposite direction, from autocratic rule to liberal democracies. While the outcome of this conflict is hard to determine, the opportunities in Venezuela are clearly evident with its huge oil reserves. Whether this crisis will lead to foreign intervention or a civil war remains to be seen, and for now, the future seems uncertain.  

 

Original Image by Lewis Bushell.

James Routledge 2016