As the protests against President Nicolás Maduro continue, the death toll in Venezuela has risen to 66. Demonstrations were triggered by the Supreme Court’s March 29 announcement when it ruled to dissolve the opposition-controlled National Assembly. This in effect would give all the Assembly’s legislative powers to the Court. The ruling was reversed three days later after provoking nationwide protests.
Venezuela is in the midst of a severe economic crisis. There are widespread shortages of food and medical supplies. An estimated 30% of school-aged children suffer from malnutrition and over 87% of people struggle financially to buy essential food. According to the International Monetary Fund, Venezuela’s inflation rate is expected to increase to 1,600% this year, which would be the highest in the world.
The crisis has much to do with Maduro’s approach to Venezuela’s oil exports. Since Chávez’s time, the Venezuelan government has controlled the monetary side of the oil industry and Maduro continues this control. Oil accounts for over 95% of its export income. Due in part to the decline in oil prices in 2014, Venezuela saw a decrease in the flow of imports and therefore, a decrease in its economy. The country’s economic state is extremely volatile because of its dependence on foreign nations, such as the United States, its main petroleum importer.
There is also an immense amount of political corruption that exists through drug trafficking and other sources of money laundering.
Faced with widening economic crisis and corruption Venezuelan people launched a series of street protests. As managing partner of Caracas Capital Markets Russ Dallen states, the Venezuelan people are “starving because there’s no food, and they’re protesting because they want a change of government.”
Venezuela has held democratically elected governments since the late 1950s, but when Hugo Chávez rose to power in 1999, he transitioned the country to an increasingly authoritarian state. With Maduro’s rise in 2013, state control only expanded. The curtailing of the press and the strict economic sanctions on price controls and currency exchange are just two examples of Maduro exerting power.
The Venezuelan opposition has four demands: a call for general elections, an international humanitarian aid channel, the release of imprisoned activists, and reformation of the current Court and Assembly system.
With the backing of the Venezuelan army, Maduro is difficult to successfully oppose. He has used violence to disband opposition protestors who have taken efforts to defend themselves.
On May 1, in an act of self-preservation, Maduro implemented a constitutional assembly seeking to alter the constitution, which the opposition says is a sham meant to delay upcoming elections.
Elections are set to occur on July 30, a major delay from the original December 2016 deadline. Maduro likely sought the postponement because he fears an opposition victory, comparable to the 2015 parliamentary election, where the opposition gained a parliamentary majority.
But Maduro has powerful foreign supporters that have helped to prevent his political demise, including Russia and Iran.
Up until the 2014 oil price decrease, Venezuela was one of Russia’s principal importers for military equipment. Russia’s support for the Maduro government was affirmed in February by the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Venezuela’s financial crisis has caused Russia to slash its budget by close to $1 billion dollars. This financial hindrance could potentially strain Russia’s relationship with Venezuela.
Iran is also a strong alliance for Venezuela, which has allowed groups like IRGC and Hezbollah to operate within its borders unimpeded. With Venezuela’s Vice President, Tareck El Aissami’s alleged ties to Hezbollah and other terrorist networks, the country is a hotspot for illegal activities.
Other international connections for Venezuela include China and Ecuador.
The future of Venezuela depends on two polarizing forces: Maduro and his opponents, specifically the Venezuelan opposition and its leaders such as Henrique Capriles.
With the help of outside influences, powerful military, and the dictatorship style rule Maduro has established, he has successfully maintained power. However, the dire economic crisis and the Venezuelan’s outcry over the current establishment is not to be ignored.