We Need to Pay Attention to Chaos in Venezuela
On Jan. 10, Nicolás Maduro, after an election widely condemned as fraudulent, assumed a second term as Venezuela’s president. This leaves the National Assembly as the only remaining democratically elected body representing the Venezuelan people.
As Maduro begins this new term, it is worth remembering the degree of fraud around the election last May. Atlantic Council research details the conditions that give the election a failing grade: from prohibiting the participation of a majority of opposition parties and candidates to a government-stacked electoral management body as well as control points outside polling stations.
The international reaction thus far to the new swearing-in has been largely one of rejection. The Organization of American States agreed to “not recognize the legitimacy of Nicolás Maduro’s new term as of the 10th of January of 2019. ” Nineteen countries supported the resolution. The United States reinforced its support for a return to democracy, as did the European Union. Paraguay severed diplomatic relations with Caracas.
But this must only be the start. As the Organization urged, countries should adopt “diplomatic, political, economic and financial measures” to help restore democracy. Collective, coordinated, multifaceted steps are urgently needed to lay additional pressure on Maduro and his cronies. The goal of all new measures should be to create additional fissures within a regime clinging to power and using repression to squash dissent.
The vast majority of the Venezuelan people fear for what may come next under Maduro. Since he assumed power in 2013, conditions in the country Maduro inherited from Hugo Chávez have gone from bad to worse to reprehensible. Take inflation. The rate has spiked from 43 percent to 1,300,000 percent. The U.S.-dollar equivalent of a Venezuelan’s monthly minimum wage was $105 in 2013. In 2018, it stood at $2. Food and medicine grew scarcer by the day.
The suffering doesn’t end there. More than 150,000 people have died violently due to the unwieldy security situation under Maduro, according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence. In the last few years, more than 1,300 political prisoners passed through Venezuela’s notoriously deplorable jails.
Venezuela, holder of the world’s largest oil reserves, descends into new levels of chaos and repression by the day. It is a modern tragedy. The implications are felt most by its people, but the consequences spread far beyond Venezuelan borders. Venezuela plays a role in international narcotics trafficking, illegal gold transactions, human smuggling, and supporting armed groups in neighboring Colombia. Left with little choice, Venezuelans are leaving the country in droves, thus creating our hemisphere’s largest migration crisis. The UN expects that 5.4 million people will have left the country by the end of this year -- 2 million of them in 2019 alone.
With its allies dwindling by the day, the regime props itself up by striking dubious deals with countries such as Russia, China, Turkey, and Iran. A Russian bomber mission to Venezuela last month was followed up by the announcement of a Russian base off the coast of Venezuela. Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Caracas in December, announcing new deals following a spike in its Venezuelan gold imports worth $900 million. Turkey’s vice president and the defense minister of Iran were among the small contingent of international participants at Maduro’s inauguration ceremony in Caracas.
Neither the world’s democracies nor the vast majority of the Venezuelan people are celebrating Maduro’s new term. Instead, his inauguration -- and the beginning of his fraudulently secured second term -- should serve as a moment for renewed collective action and new steps to move toward a transition to democracy. Rhetoric alone will not save Venezuela. Inaction will only perpetuate the crisis further.
Jason Marczak is Director of the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center at the Atlantic Council. He is on Twitter at @jmarczak. The views expressed are the author's own.