Venezuela has been in a state of political and economic instability for over eight years which has sparked fears of revolt in the country. The economic crisis in Venezuela was largely a result of corruption and mismanagement under Chavez which led to Venezuela becoming a country reliant on oil exports. This proved to be the cause of their economic decline in 2014, when the collapse of oil prices led to widespread poverty. Beyond the failing economy, the political climate of Venezuela has been in a downward spiraling trend since Maduro’s election in 2013. This is exemplified by the anti-government protests of 2013-14. One of the main gripes of the protesters was how poorly the economy was being handled. Indeed, Maduro’s habit of printing money led to a crisis of hyperinflation which reached 10 million percent in 2019. This political and economic instability has contributed to Caracas, the capital of the country, becoming the third most violent country in the world.
Although Venezuela’s economy has shown some signs of recovery in recent times, the impact of this recovery has been unevenly distributed among the population. While the country’s richest have been able to stave off poverty by receiving remittance payments from abroad, many are yet to see improvement in their socio-economic conditions. This is due to the fact that the economic upturn is mainly concentrated in certain sectors and regions, with the non-tradable sectors of the economy, such as commerce, services, technology, distribution, and health being the main beneficiaries. Therefore, while the number of people living in poverty in Venezuela was reduced from 65.2% in 2021 to 50.5% in 2022, income inequality is increasing in Venezuela. The poorest 10% of the population are made to survive on only 8$ a month. This implies that the country remains very unstable economically and politically. This article sets out to determine what is interrupting the process of revolt in Venezuela against the current leader of the country.
The Failed 2019 Revolution
The case of the 2019 revolution is interesting, because it demonstrates that revolution is possible in the country should the current political climate persist. What sparked such an uprising in 2019, was the leadership of Juan Guaidó, an opposition leader and his “Operation Freedom”. With the intent to free the country from the grasp of Maduro, he declared himself as the sitting president only two weeks after Maduro had won his second election. This divided the international community; Guaidó was able to receive support for his rule from the United States government and 50 other nations, but was simultaneously condemned by other countries such as China and Russia. The mobilization of Venezuelan populations led to large demonstrations, where participants actively fought for democracy in the country. In retaliation, Maduro’s government decided to close off the border with Brazil to block aid from coming to the country and condonned the shooting of protesters near the border. In the end, despite support from the United-States and the former intelligence chief of Venezuela, Maduro was not dislodged from power.
Possible Repeat of 2019
It is highly unlikely that a revolt would occur in 2023, partly because the Venezuelan opposition to Maduro is currently without an emblematic figurehead. Indeed, Venezuela’s opposition party made it clear that the opposition candidate to combat Maduro would not be Guaidó. This decision was undertaken on January 4th; 72 voted in favor, 29 voted against, and 8 abstained concerning the question of ending Guaidó’s interim presidency. Certain representatives of the opposition claimed that taking out Guaidó would be suicide for the opposition movement, since he possesses international recognition. They are right to highlight the magnitude of this decision, indeed, prior to Guaidó, the opposition in Venezuela was highly divided. This indicates that the post-Guaidó movement might face similar fractures in the future making the task of toppling Maduro increasingly fictitious.
The Venezuelan opposition has had success in engaging in political dialogue with Maduro, which ended up resulting in humanitarian aid to decrease the problem of famine in the country. However, they do not seem to have enough power to mobilize the Venezuelan population against Maduro. Indeed, on Jan 5th, Guaidó’s term as a congressional speaker expired, giving even less formal power to the opposition movement. This power was further diminished by the fact that countries which supported the plight of Juan Guaidó and his opposition are slowly withdrawing away. Indeed, many European and Latin American countries have chosen to withdraw support to the opposition, since it would make no sense to recognize a leader with no power in the country.
Another element which would decrease the possibility of a revolt occurring in Venezuela is the growing allegiance of the armed forces to Maduro. The army is what stopped the revolt in 2019, and it is still loyal to the incumbent leader despite the economic hardship reported recently in Venezuela. Part of the reason for this is that Maduro strategically chooses to reward his guard with pay raises. He even goes as far as placing high-ranking military officials in charge of important industries in the region. This serves to offset popular uprising in the country despite the fact that the economic context might call for it.
To keep the military in check, since 2014, Maduro has also fragmented the military apparatus of the country. This implied that Maduro engaged in the creation of new command posts throughout Venezuela. Indeed, new senior officers were made responsible for certain regions within every state of the country. For instance, in the Andes region of Venezuela, 20 generals now manage 3000 soldiers, while prior to these measures 6 generals were in charge of around 13,000 troops. This creates a system where even the most powerful generals do not have enough power to topple the government. Additionally, it appears that the 2019 revolt only seemed to further reinforce the army’s loyalty to Maduro. Indeed, when Guaidó called officers to rise up against the President, senior officers responded by stating their continuing commitment to the current President.
Thus, with a fractured opposition and a very loyal army, it appears that Guaidó’s dream to restore democracy in the country is slowly waning. The solution for most Venezuelans seems to be to escape rather than confront such a difficult obstacle. Indeed, since the beginning of the crisis in 2014, 6 million Venezuelans have left the country. Venezuelans would understandably prefer prosperity somewhere else, than to continue a fight against famine, poor economic conditions, and an undemocratic government.
Edited by Sophie Gunyon.
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and they do not reflect the position of the McGill Journal of Political Studies or the Political Science Students’ Association.
Featured image by obtained via Flickr under a Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.