Frequently Asked Questions : The Current Situation in Venezuela

What is the current situation in Venezuela?

There is currently deep political polarisation in Venezuela. Primarily driven by severe economic difficulties, it is fuelled by the collapse in oil prices and an ‘economic war’ of destabilisation by opponents of President Nicolas Maduro’s government similar to that waged against Allende’s Chile in the 70s. Within this situation, serious analysts agree that both the Government and the right-wing opposition maintain the support of millions.

Between April and August 2017 violence by anti-democratic, extreme elements associated with right-wing protests, aimed to destabilise, and ultimately overthrow, Venezuela’s elected President. This resulted in at least 120 deaths and over 1,200 people injured, affecting pro-government supporters, anti-government protesters and security forces personnel.  This wave of violence also included the assassination of a number of prominent government supporters and arson attacks on a number of government and public sector buildings. As a result of this, arrests have been made of both pro and anti-government protestors, and of members of the security forces.

In July, elections took place in Venezuela for a National Constituent Assembly in line with the country’s constitution. This Assembly is tasked with reviewing the country’s constitution, prior to writing a new constitution that will ultimately be subject to popular referendum. Sections of the right-wing opposition chose to boycott this vote. As a result, the Constituent Assembly is primarily composed on supporters of President Nicolas Maduro and progressive grassroots movements.

Since the Constituent Assembly elections, the violent protests have virtually disappeared.

 

 

What elections have taken place in Venezuela since the summer and what elections are due to take place?

In October, regional elections produced a victory for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), which won 18 out of the 23 governorships. Turnout was up at 61%, compared to 54% five years ago. The PSUV secured 54% of the vote, some 5.6 million votes, a slight drop of 2.2% points from its vote in the 2012 regional elections. Four of the five governorships won by the opposition went to more moderate elements in the right wing coalition.

The regional election result is significant because it represents a complete turnaround from the 2015 elections for the National Assembly in which the PSUV and allied parties won only 41% of the vote and 55 seats out of a total of 165.

Municipal elections then took place on December 10, electing 335 mayors, in addition to an election for the governorship of the Zulia state. In these elections 9.1 million people voted, a turnout of over 47%.

The turnout was impressive considering that a number of right-wing opposition parties announced they were boycotting the election. Nonetheless, and reflecting on-going divisions within Venezuela’s right-wing opposition, several opposition candidates did participate.

For the 335 mayoralties, Chavista candidates won over 300, whilst right-wing opposition candidates taken as a whole were successful in 25 mayoralties.

Pro-government candidates won 23 mayoralties of the capital cities, including Caracas, losing only in San Fernando, Tachira state. The governing PSUV also won the Zulia governorship election.

These strong election results for the governing PSUV in 2017 have shown that, contrary to some speculation from supporters of Trump’s ‘regime change’ agenda in Venezuela, the government maintains a solid basis of support. In contrast, splits are emerging in the right wing opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) coalition.

It is therefore simply untrue to imply that Venezuela is no longer democratic – it has had 24 elections or referenda since 1998, of which government supporters have won 22.

In line with the Venezuelan constitution, Presidential elections will take place in 2018.

 

 

How can Venezuela peacefully resolve its current difficulties?

Venezuela’s current difficulties are best addressed and resolved through peaceful dialogue. The means for a regional dialogue under the auspices of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) exist, with the participation of the former Presidents of numerous countries.

The Venezuelan government and much of civil society have indicated a willingness to take part in such talks and initial talks took place towards the end of 2017.

The latest position is that the Venezuelan government and the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) opposition coalition resumed talks on January 12 in the Dominican Republic. Dominican President Danilo Medina is leading the negotiations, which also include representatives from Bolivia, Chile, Mexico and Nicaragua. Further talks are set to take place.

There is doubt that some sections of the MUD coalition actually want to achieve a settlement. MUD negotiator and legislator for the New Era party, Timoteo Zambrano, stepped down from the dialogue team at the beginning of January, accusing other members of “censuring” him and indicating that a number of opposition leaders within the MUD coalition had no desire to reach an agreement with the national government.

 

 

What is the Trump administration’s attitude towards Venezuela?

In August, the Trump administration announced sanctions against Venezuela that are designed to cut off financing by prohibiting new borrowing. By starving the economy of foreign exchange, this action will harm the private sector, and therefore most Venezuelans.  These sanctions, which are illegal under international law, also aim to make it harder for Venezuela to restructure its debts

Furthermore, in August President Trump said military intervention in Venezuela was an option and then went on to attack Venezuela in his speech at the United Nations. In November, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, declared that “the crisis in Venezuela today poses a direct threat to international peace and security. Venezuela is an increasingly violent narco-state that threatens the region, the hemisphere, and the world.”

Polling shows that the majority of Venezuelans, including both pro- and anti-government Venezuelans, are opposed to the US sanctions, which have already led to the blocking of food imports.

 

Regional-based dialogue is the way forward in Venezuela. Governments internationally should do all they can to facilitate such a dialogue process in Venezuela – Trump’s sanctions will only exacerbate the country’s difficulties and divisions.