Foreign Policy Blogs

Venezuela: Tensions High as Showdown Looms

Venezuelans block a street in the capital Caracas in protest of President Nicolas Maduro and his increasingly autocratic rule. Protesters are demanding that open elections be held soon, although the regime is resisting this. (Marco Bello/Reuters)

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro continues to crack down on opposition and protests to his increasingly authoritarian government. As pressure mounts both inside and outside the country amid widespread protests and violent outbreaks, citizens continue to suffer as Maduro clings to power. The government also continues to try to delay holding elections, likely out of concern (and it is valid concern) that they might actually lose.

I wrote about the origins of the present unrest on April 13th. The country’s Supreme Court tried to assume powers of the National Assembly, and the regime declared a major opposition figure–Henrique Capriles, considered a front-runner in the next presidential election–ineligible to run for office. In the time since, marches and protests have become ever-present. Maduro regularly dismisses them as baseless efforts to foment violence and topple his government. Marchers are typically cut off by government-backed security forces. Also, Maduro has directed the Caracas subway system to be closed when protests are planned in order to make it more difficult for participants to gather.

The overwhelming majority of international response has been in support of the opposition. On April 19th, 11 Latin American countries issued a joint statement urging the Venezuelan government to set a timeframe for holding elections in order to “allow for a quick solution to the crisis that Venezuela is living through.”

Antagonism with the U.S. grew further on April 20th when General Motors announced it would be ceasing all operations in Venezuela. The move resulted from government authorities seizing control of GM’s auto manufacturing plant in the city of Valencia, along with bank accounts and other assets. This high-profile rebuke of a major American business is likely to have repercussions in both countries. GM employs almost 4,000 people in Venezuela, mostly at car and truck dealerships. On the same day, protests raged in Caracas and were met by tear gas and rubber bullets.

Shows of discontent against the Maduro regime continued on April 24th, when thousands of protestors in Caracas and other cities gathered on highways and other main streets, sitting down in the middle of roads and refusing to move, bringing traffic to a standstill. Violent encounters with security forces continued, bringing the total of Venezuelans killed since this wave of protests began to 23. The protests and ensuing violence have only increased in intensity in the month since the Supreme Court attempted its takeover.

By April 28th, the death toll rose to 29, as protests shifted in a different direction. On that day hundreds marched to the jail holding Leopoldo Lopez, a highly regarded opposition leader who was arrested in 2014 for instigating violence. Of course Lopez’s supporters maintain he is a political prisoner convicted on bogus charges. While state police blocked access to the prison, those supporting Lopez held a rally outside, shouting “Leopoldo” and holding signs saying “No to Dictatorship.”

***

While the violence perpetrated by government forces is deplorable and debilitating, it does like the opposition is gaining momentum. Protests show no sign of slowing down, and international support is largely on the side of the resistance. Plus according to Reuters, the opposition coalition in the National Assembly now has “majority support.”

Yet many challenges remain. Maduro seems unwilliing relinquish any power, and has done everything he can to prevent Capriles from running against him in the next election. Change will not be easy.

But it seems Venezuelans think change is worth fighting for. A presidential election must be held within a reasonable time, with support of independent monitors to ensure fairness. If the present is allowed to continue, it is hard to see how Venezuelans’ life will be able to improve.

 

Author

Scott Bleiweis
Scott Bleiweis

Scott Bleiweis writes on international relations topics for FPA. He has a M.A. in democracy studies and conflict resolution from the University of Denver, and a B.A. in Politics/International Studies from Brandeis University. Scott was formerly a Fulbright education scholar in Bulgaria (views in this blog are his own, and do not represent those of the Fulbright organization or U.S. government).

Scott supports Winston Churchill's characterization of the complex form of government known as democracy: “Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

americasdiplomats_socialmediaasset