MS Risk Blog

Venezuela Spiralling into Humanitarian crisis and Political Turmoil

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Venezuela have been caught in a political crisis since January 2019, with opposition leader and the National Assembly leader Juan Guaido declaring himself interim president. Under President Nicolas Maduro the economy of Venezuela collapsed, causing shortages of basic supplies which prompted 4.5 million people to leave. The political crisis needs to be resolved so that the economy and resulting humanitarian crisis can be dealt with.

Two Presidents

President Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez who died while in presidency in 2013 following 14 years as the country’s leader. His socialist party PSUV have governed Venezuela for 20 years. In May 2018 Maduro was re-elected as president, with the opposition widely dismissing the poll as rigged. This was due to many candidates who ran against Maduro being barred from running while others had been jailed or fled the country for fear of being imprisoned. The opposition parties also argued the poll would be neither free nor fair. Under President Maduro, the economy of Venezuela collapsed leading to widespread shortages, resulting in 4.5 million people escaping the country. In December 2016 the opposition parties won a majority in the National Assembly with Juan Guaido being made leader of the Assembly. In response to this President Maduro created the National Constituent Assembly, which was made up exclusively of government supporters whose powers supersede those of the National Assembly. This move has resulted in the two bodies being in continuous dispute over issues. In January 2019 with the political crisis worsening National Assembly leader Juan Guaido declared himself interim president on 23 January opposing President Maduro following his inauguration on January 10, 2019.

Juan Guaido, the youngest person to have been elected to lead the National Assembly, argued in a rousing speech to a crowd of supporters in January 2019, that the 2018 re-election of President Nicolas Maduro was illegitimate, and that the presidency was vacant. He went on to state that with his role of Speaker of the National Assembly he was the only one left to lead the country out of the economic and political crisis. Following his move to declare himself interim president he was quickly recognised as the legitimate leader by the United States, Brazil and Colombia. With the nations siding with him soon growing to more than 50 countries. Guaido had the peoples vote as they believed he would ascend to the presidential palace within months. They also applauded his promise to bring in humanitarian aid to resolve the widespread shortages of basic goods.

Political Conflict Intensifies

Over the last year however, the two leaders of Venezuela have been at continuous loggerheads, with the government of President Maduro using his support from the military to prevent Guaido to carry out promises of aid. On February 23, 2019 Guaido faced his first set back, in his promise to provide the food and medical supplies for the country which had been piling up for days just over the Colombian border, after Maduro barricaded entry points, contending that the shipments are meant to humiliate and undermine him. Guaido along with volunteers, set off to bring the aid to the people of Venezuela however were met with teargas and rubber bullets, and at least three of the trucks caring aid were burned at the border. None of the shipments made it past the border blockades.

With the lack of results from Guaido the support for him began to dwindle and attendance at the rallies called in support of Guaido diminished. On April 30, 2019 Guaido made another attempt to gain more control in Venezuela with an attempt to get the armed forces who are loyal to President Maduro to switch sides. This however failed with only a few dozen soldiers joining him and resulted with the Maduro government labelling this as an attempted coup and cracking down even harder on the opposition.

Whilst the political tensions have been going on, the humanitarian crisis has continued in Venezuela, with thousands of people fleeing the country on foot every day. In April 2019, President Maduro allowed a shipment of emergency supplies in from the Red Cross. Prior to this Maduro had been denying the existence of a humanitarian crises and refused any foreign aid to enter the country with the government claiming the aid shipments are a political ploy by the United States. As well as a lack of basic supplies, the infrastructure in Venezuela has been poorly maintained. Since March 2019, a series of country-wide blackouts have been occurring. The continued political tensions have resulted in increased sanctions from the United States on Maduro, including the targeting of oil. Although the government has received sanctions from the US, the Maduro government has received continued support from Russia and China, with China offering to help rebuild the national power grid.

Renewed Political Tensions

A year after the political tensions began, the situation has escalated with renewed tension. Starting in January 2020, the Maduro government deployed police to prevent Guaido who was the National Assembly leader and opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly for the election of a new National Assembly leader, which Guaido was set to win. This move by the Maduro government meant they were able to elect their own candidate, pro-Maduro politician Luis Parra, into the position. In response Guaido and the opposition law makers who made up the majority of the National Assembly held their own election off-site and re-elected Guaido with a larger majority then Luis Parra had. This left Venezuela with two men claiming the presidency but also with two National Assembly leaders.

The key players in this crisis are to be seen as being the security forces, who have so far remained loyal to Maduro. Maduro has rewarded this loyalty with frequent pay increases and high-ranking military men being awarded control of key posts and industries. Talks between the government and opposition have seen no progress and continued US imposed sanctions on Venezuela and the government have not weakened President Maduro enough to see him step down from office. It can be said that the actions of the US have given Maduro a scapegoat to blame for the situation in Venezuela.

Overall Assessment

There are concerns to be heard with the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela escalating and the political situation continuing to deteriorate. The mass fleeing of Venezuelans is expected to continue. Resulting in an increased strain on the Latin American countries being inundated by the people escaping the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela; as well as on aid groups trying to support the refugees and asylum seekers. The political situation in Venezuela needs to be resolved so that the economy can be stabilised, and the humanitarian crisis can be resolved. It is likely that a resolution to the situation will only occur with the intervention of international players, through mitigation talks rather than sanctions which are likely to further escalate the current humanitarian crisis. The United States has already offered to mitigate the situation, however, with the United States supporting Guaido’s claim of presidency and putting continued sanctions on Maduro’s government other international powers may need to oversee the mitigation process.