It is no secret that the country of Venezuela is in a crisis. With the nation divided into two groups with vastly different agendas, it has proven to be the hate towards President Nicolás Maduro that has seemingly brought the population back together.
A Nation (no longer) Divided
The Chavistas is the name for the group of Venezuelan citizens who support the United Socialist Party (or PSUV). The Chavistas always supported candidates from Maduro’s side, particularly his predecessor Hugo Chavez. However, Maduro’s popularity has plummeted recently, and even his avid supporters in the PSUV have taken a stand.
The lack of popularity for Maduro stems in large part from the management of Venezuela’s rich oil fields. Hugo Chavez was and is still praised for his presidency; he used money from oil to raise Venezuela’s poverty line and reduce inequality in a struggling nation. Since Maduro took office, however, oil exports have fallen. For a country that relies so heavily on the success of the oil trade, this has hampered Maduro’s presidency considerably. Oil in Venezuela accounts for roughly 95% of the country’s export revenues and had funded multiple government programs, some of which were responsible for providing millions of Venezuelans with homes.
Fuel to the Fire
As if the failure to manage Venezuelan oil wasn’t enough, tensions only became worse between the citizens and government. The Supreme Court announced in March that it would be taking over the opposition-controlled National Assembly. The Court tried to argue that the Assembly was in contempt from previous rulings; however, even after the Court ultimately overturned the ruling, the clearly dwindling Separation of Powers between opposition and government was not going to be ignored. Distrust only grew.
The anti-government protesters had their demands, but two of these held clearer importance. The first of these was to remove the Supreme Court justices who made the March 29 ruling to take over the National Assembly. The second was to push for general elections in 2017. Protests became a daily routine, and the Venezuelan people made their demands clear.
Maduro Strikes Again
Maduro felt a significant move was necessary. He was unwilling to grant early elections and instead decided to create a constituent assembly. Maduro felt that thepeople were trying to illegally overthrow his government, and felt that he needed to draft a new constitution that would “neutralize the opposition.”
Nothing good can come out of the constituent assembly for the opposition. It would prove to delay general elections even longer–further weakening the National Assembly–and continue to tighten the circle of the people that were calling the shots in Maduro’s government.
The Controversial Vote
Voting began Sunday on the new constituent assembly, the 545-person group that would have the power to “rewrite the constitution, dissolve state institutions, [and] bring peace to the struggling country,” according to NBC News. With the beginning of the vote also began a ban on anti-government protests until today; however, this fueled the fire even further.
Violence broke out in the capital city of Caracas between the opposition and the police. This resulted in the deaths of dozens, as well as multiple explosions that severely injured a group of police officers. The opposition essentially abandoned the vote, blockading streets and leaving a mere 7% of the population with tallied votes.
The U.S. State Department spoke out after the attacks, condemning the election. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley tweeted out that the election was a “sham” and was just one step closer to a dictatorship.
It was confirmed last night that two Venezuelan opposition leaders have been arrested. Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma were re-arrested and taken to Ramo Verde military jail in Miranda, Venezuela. The two were under house arrest for violence during protests back in 2014, and the Supreme Court reported that they received intel that they were trying to leave the country. In a government so corrupt, the intelligence has every possibility of being bogus. The international condemnation of the arrests was inevitable. Online footage shows López taken from his home by authorities.
Although López and Ledezma played key roles in the 2014 protests, their roles were much less significant in Sunday’s protests. Maduro is in a very difficult position. The opposition is still absorbing the blow of losing two leaders for their cause. It will be very interesting to see the latest updates coming out of Venezuela.