Venezuela turns the page after 16 years of “21st Century Socialism”

Parliamentary elections held yesterday gave the opposition coalition a resounding landslide victory, with the first bulletin allocating 99 out of 167 seats to the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) garnering 46 seats, with the remaining 22 seats still to be adjudicated.

Although the government repeatedly boasted that the Venezuelan electoral commission (CNE) has the world’s “most advanced electoral system” the first and only bulletin was not issued until well after midnight, 6 hours after polls officially closed.  As of this writing, no final official results have been released.

Venezuela has been reeling under the world’s highest inflation rate, a currency devaluation of more than 60 % in one year, chronic food and medicine shortages, and rampant violent crime since President Nicolas Maduro’s election in March 2013 following the death of Hugo Chavez, who was first elected in 1998 and over the course of 14 years proceeded to install what he called a “Bolivarian revolution” with its foundation being “21st Century Socialism.”

Chavez was the beneficiary of record high oil prices, which is Venezuela’s main export and source of revenue.  Flush with cash, he embarked on a massive social spending program both at home and abroad, establishing alliances with Cuba and Iran in order to counter what he called American hegemony.

Founding organizations such as the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas (ALBA), the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), the government propaganda satellite channel Telesur, as well as sponsoring economic partnerships like the Caribbean Petroleum consortium (PETROCARIBE), the Chavez administration curried favor and goodwill throughout Latin America, as other left-leaning governments were elected in Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, and Bolivia.

These institutions were meant to supplant the International Government Organizations regime which has been in place since the end of WWII and led by the United Nations and the Organization of American States.  In fact, Chavez had a very contentious relationship with both bodies, routinely denouncing the UN as a “stooge of imperialism” and the OAS as a “shameful” organization every time his authoritarian and undemocratic actions were criticized.

Throughout his mandate, Chavez sought partnerships with any government who espoused anti-Americanism, the most prominent being the Islamic Republic of Iran.  He directed the state-owned airline Conviasa to establish direct flights to Damascus and Tehran, destinations that hold little to no appeal for Venezuelans.   While the flights were active from 2004 to 2010, credible allegations of both drug-running and terrorist transport were reported.

After Chavez’s death in March 2013, Nicolas Maduro was elected with a razor-thin margin.  Diosdado Cabello, a former Chavez confidant from their Army days, was appointed president of the National Assembly, where he has amassed considerable power and wealth.  He is widely referred to as the true ruler behind the scenes with a firm grip on the military establishment, while Maduro is perceived as a Cuban puppet and in control of the civilian wing of the PSUV.

Cabello is the target of a DEA investigation; multiple reports state that he is the head of the “Cartel of the Suns” which controls the drug traffic coming out of Venezuela.  As recently as three weeks ago, two nephews of Cilia Flores, Venezuela’s first lady, were arrested in Haiti on charges of conspiracy to transport 800 kilos of cocaine to the USA.

The MUD now has its work cut out for them. The first order of business is to determine exactly how many deputies will take their seats in the new session on January 5th.  A super majority of 110 is needed to enact meaningful reforms, especially as the Venezuelan economy has been in a death spiral due to gross mismanagement combined with the decline in oil prices.