The Venezuelan Economic, Political and Social CrisisFebruary 20, 2015 in Venezuela
Despite significant social advances achieved under former President Chavez’ social policies, Venezuela is suffering from profound economic, political and social polarization. The implementation of economic policies in the past decade, namely the introduction of currency exchange controls, the declining productivity and nationalization have led to a steady deterioration of the country’s economy. The accumulation of foreign debt and the reduction of Central Bank reserves have led to critical inflation hitting 64% and shortages of goods that have weakened the on-going administration of President Nicolas Maduro. This context of economic crisis is contributing to heightened political and social tensions across the country. Furthermore, those tensions have been exacerbated by ideological differences and a political stalemate within the ruling party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela on how to tackle the economic crisis.
The Venezuelan government’s increased control over democratic institutions and its campaign against the opposition provoked a deterioration of democracy, where notably the opposition has no recourse to the institutions established by the law, developing an environment of government impunity in both the political and economic spheres. In addition to this, former President Chavez’ reorganization of the military forces has brought their heightened involvement in civil matters and favoured the militarization of the Venezuelan society.
As Venezuela marked the 1-year anniversary of the death of Hugo Chavez in March 2014, the country suffered from widespread political violence following several weeks of anti-government demonstrations, protests and retaliations injuring hundreds of people and resulted in the deaths of more than 40 civilians. The crisis engendered numerous reactions from the international community. The European Union, the United Nations, the Interamerican Human Rights Commission and the International Socialist organization condemned the violence used by police and military forces, and condemned human rights violations.
The widespread insecurity, scarcity and shortage of goods and allegations of corruption among the government and military, associated with the repression of anti-government protests and political opponents and human rights violations in 2014, have contributed to the on-going explosive climate. Although the opposition has formed a coalition, it has not been able to propose a viable political alternative. By looking at recent events, there are signs of an increased tendency of a militarized response to the unrest and to turn to violence on several sides.
President Maduro launched an economic war against the bourgeoisie by intervening in some companies and imposing a decrease in the prices of household appliances sold at retail store chains. This initiative became a law by Presidential decree, and imposed a maximum of 30% to the earnings of businesses, and developed severe fines or imprisonment to those who do not comply. The establishment of this new mechanism has made scarcity of goods a systematic pattern of the everyday life of Venezuela nationals. Recently, President Maduro also ordered the takeover of a private supermarket chain called Dia a Dia by the state food agency. Other international companies based in Venezuela could possibly be targeted in the future. Currently, Venezuelans have to queue for hours outside supermarkets, leading to growing tensions since stocks are running lower than usual. Since the beginning of 2015, the situation has deteriorated even more as President Maduro was out of the country visiting several countries such as Russia, China and Opec nations to seek fresh money to shore up the Venezuelan economy and try to convince other oil producers to curtail production.
Massive violent protests are spreading across the country once more with groups of students setting up roadblocks and burning tyres. It is likely that violent demonstrations will continue over the next weeks, as President Maduro authorized on 1 February the use of deadly force for police and military forces against protesters if they feel their lives are in danger. Civil rights groups claim that theses regulations will bring the opposite result expected and added that: “they pose a direct threat to the working class.” Other human rights organizations believe that theses regulations are unconstitutional, as the Venezuelan Constitution expressly forbids the use of firearms to control public demonstrations. As 2015 started, dozens of protesters have already been arrested.
Lastly, on a geopolitical level, the critical situation of Venezuela is affecting the political map of the whole Latin American region by impacting not only the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States and other regional mechanisms, but also the domestic politics in several countries in the region. In December, the U.S Congress cleared and sent to President Obama legislation directing him to impose sanctions against Venezuelan government officials who were involved in a crackdown on anti-government protesters a few months ago. The U.S Senate also passed a bill on 15 December and the House approved the measure by voice vote. It authorized sanctions that will freeze the assets and ban visas of individuals accused of perpetrating acts of violence or violating the human rights of those opposing the Venezuelan government of Maduro. Venezuela’s foreign relations are complicated with numerous countries
Taking into account this complex situation where many drivers are involved, it is likely that if President Maduro’s administration fails to drive adequate economic policies, increases the repression of the opposition and the social outbreak continues unabated, the country could enter into a state of higher anarchy and escalating violence. Thus, it would result in a higher threat to both Venezuela and its neighbours’ domestic security.