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Slow-Motion Coup in Venezuela

Courtesy Antonio Marín Segovia/Flickr

This article was originally published by the International Crisis Group on 5 August 2016.

Nicolás Maduro was elected president of Venezuela in April 2013 by a narrow margin. His term is due to end in January 2019, unless the opposition Democratic Unity (MUD) alliance can force a recall referendum this year – and win it. But does President Maduro really run the country?

In recent weeks Nicolás Maduro appears to have taken a back seat to Venezuela’s top general, defence minister Vladimir Padrino López, who also – unusually – holds the post of operational commander of the armed forces.

On 11 July, Maduro announced that he and Padrino would jointly head a newly-created “Civilian-Military Presidential Command”, charged primarily with resolving the country’s acute shortage of food, medicines and other basic goods. All other ministries and state institutions have been subordinated to this body, whose functions not only cover stimulating production, controlling prices and overseeing distribution and imports of food, but also the country’s security and defence.

The prominence of the military in determining Venezuela’s political future was illustrated once again by the appointment on Wednesday of Néstor Reverol as interior minister. Unlike Padrino, who rose through the army, Reverol hails from the National Guard. His alleged criminal connections – he was promoted to the post of minister after being served a US court indictment the day before for assisting drug traffickers – suggests that different factions in the military may now be jostling for shares of influence in the state.

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Venezuela’s Toxic Combination: Too Many Guns, Too Little Food

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Chavez, courtesy of mwausk/flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This article was originally published by The International Crisis Group on 6 June 2016.

Venezuela is a country of almost 900,000 square kilometres with over 30 million inhabitants. But a few, run-down city blocks in the west of the capital, Caracas, carry a significance far beyond their size and population. Known as “el centro”, this part of Libertador municipality holds the presidential Miraflores palace, many ministry buildings, the Supreme Court (Tribunal Supremo de Justicia, or TSJ) and the headquarters of the electoral authority (Consejo Nacional Electoral, or CNE). In the past few days “el centro” has been the scene of a variety of events that speak volumes about the depth of the combined political, economic, social and humanitarian conflict that seems finally to have caught the attention of the wider world. And about the difficulty of resolving it through dialogue.

Crisis Group has for years warned that authoritarian governance, economic mismanagement, violent crime and lawlessness in Venezuela would eventually prove a toxic combination. The crisis spiralled out of control following the untimely death from cancer of the country’s charismatic leader Hugo Chávez in 2013 and the near simultaneous plunge in the price of oil, on which the economy is almost wholly dependent. Acute shortages of food, triple-digit inflation, one of the world’s highest homicide rates and the collapse of public services, including health care, are signs of deeper dysfunction. This is a country on the verge of implosion.

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A Non-Violent Conflict: The Venezuela-Guyana Dispute

The Venezuela/Guyana border area. Image: Unukalhai/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 21 July, 2015.

An old territorial dispute between Venezuela and Guyana has flared up once again as the Guyanese government contracted ExxonMobil to look for offshore oil in an area that Caracas claims as its own. While it is unlikely that this particular instance will escalate into an armed conflict, these tensions highlight how non-violent incidents over coveted resources will continue to occur. Moreover, should clashes over this disputed territory continue, Venezuela will, in this author’s opinion, come out as the loser as it will be inexorably regarded as the aggressor against a militarily weaker neighbor.

Moreover, while this dispute has thankfully been non-violent, it could affect U.S.-Venezuela relations as the two governments have been at odds for over a decade and a half. Washington could capitalize on Venezuela’s aggressive stance in order to strengthen relations with Guyana to better monitor developments in Caracas. » More

As Crisis in Venezuela Deepens, Maduro’s Iron Fist Tightens

Venezuelan protester, symbolically wearing chains. Image: Carlos Díaz/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by The Conversation on 4 March, 2015.

Since the death of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s political leadership has moved from charisma to authoritarianism. Support for Chávez’s Bolivarian Revolution has fallen from 65% when the populist leader died to 22% today.

The revolution’s erstwhile steward is Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s current president and Chávez’s hand-picked successor. Maduro lacks his mentor’s extraordinary charm and intelligence – and to compensate, he is resorting to the iron fist.

Who is Nicolas Maduro?

As a teenager, Maduro aspired to have his own rock band, and was a fan of Led Zeppelin. In an interview with the Guardian, he referred to himself as a “a little bohemian”. Although he never finished high school, Maduro was able to build a successful political career. A robust man of 6’4″, he spent the 1980s working as a bus driver in the capital’s public transport system, where he founded and led an informal trade union. » More

Falling Oil Prices May Spell Disaster for President of Venezuela

Tear gas used against protesters in Altamira, Caracas, 2014. Image: Andrés E. Azpúrua/Wikimedia

This article was originally published by Southern Pulse on 22 January 2015.

On 14 January 2014, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro promised the Petrocaribe alliance would continue and its twenty member countries would further consolidate into a “great economic zone.” President Maduro’s guarantee comes at a precarious time for his country, as a rapid and unexpected slump in global oil prices, coupled with persistent economic stagnation in Venezuela, have undercut his administration’s ability to maintain its social programs and address the country’s financial imbalances. » More

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