Venezuela’s Ongoing Political Crisis

Illustration of Juan Guaido and Nicolas Maduro against the Venezuelan flag.

In recent years, Venezuela has been in a state of political and economic turmoil. Facing a rapidly declining economy, presidential power struggle, and growing humanitarian crisis, Venezuelan officials have yet to resolve these conflicts. The country has been caught in a crisis for years, backed by growing political discontent, shortages of basic necessities, and hyperinflation. The crisis was further escalated following the re-election of President Maduro, raising much controversy over the unfair circumstances of the elections. Many foreign countries refuse to acknowledge Maduro as the legitimate president, but rather view Juan Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly, as the current president. Both sides believe themselves to be the legitimate president, resulting in a bitter political power struggle which is severely affecting Venezuela’s economy and humanitarian crisis.

The presidential power struggle emerged after Maduro was re-elected for a second term of presidency in May 2018, in elections that the National Assembly saw as rigged and unfair. Many opposition candidates and lawyers were either barred from running, imprisoned, or had fled the country in fear of being persecuted.

The National Assembly of Venezuela, most of whom opposed Maduro, have said that since the elections were unfair Maduro is a usurper and is abusing his power. In articles 233 and 333 of Venezuela’s constitution, it is stated that when the seat of presidency is vacant the head of the National Assembly will take over as acting president. Juan Guaido is the current head of the National Assembly and officially announced himself acting president on January 23, 2019. Maduro saw this as a direct challenge to his power, and the presidential struggle has been worse ever since.

Nicolas Maduro was first elected president in April of 2013, shortly after the death of the former president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Chavez was Maduro’s mentor, and Maduro won the election by a mere1.6 percent of votes. During his first term in presidency Venezuela’s economy faltered. Although Venezuela’s economy has been steadily declining over the years, many people blame president Maduro and former president Hugo Chavez for worsening the situation. While Maduro does not have the support of the majority of Venezuelan citizens and other countries abroad, the government does hold a lot of practical power. Many high ranking military officials are loyal to the government, and Maduro continues to reward them for their loyalty with money. The military plays a crucial part in this two way presidential power struggle as it is the main form of law enforcement, meaning whichever side controls the military essentially controls the country. 

Directly countering Maduro is the National Assembly, which is currently headed by Juan Guaido. The National Assembly is established as an independent organization that helps in passing laws in the government. However, after Maduro gained power the National Assembly’s influence over government affairs was significantly weakened due to the creation of the National Constituent Assembly in 2017. This new organization was made up entirely of those who were loyal to Maduro, allowing him to reduce opposing views and further secure his power over the country. The National Assembly was successful in advocating support for their campaign to upseat Maduro, however the organisation itself does not hold much power in practical terms.

The National Assembly was further weakened on January 5th when armed security surrounded the building and blocked Guaido from entering, to prevent him from being sworn into a second term as speaker of the National Assembly. Instead, government associated officials elected Luis Parra to take over. Parra and his supporters were involved in a government scandal not too long ago, and are being backed by Maduro. Maduro intends to conquer the National Assembly by dividing it and establishing a new pro-government speaker, eliminating the main opposition and securing his position as president.

Guaido and his supporters tried to push past security and enter the building, but these attempts were fended off with tear gas. Eventually, the group moved to a different location and there Guaido took the oath for his second term. Parra claims that since Guaido did not take the oath in the official location, it was therefore illegitimate. Guaido argues that since military forces were obstructing them from entering, Parra’s oath as speaker is also illegitimate.

While the fight for presidential power in Venezuela continues, the country’s economy and livelihood continue to decline at an alarming rate. If the political crisis is not resolved soon, Venezuela may be forced to face severe consequences.

In order to prevent Venezuela’s economic and humanitarian crisis from getting any worse, the ideal solution would be for both parties to turn their efforts towards improving the economy. If Maduro were to disband the National Constituent Assembly and return the National Assembly to its rightful place, the organization would have more say in making important government decisions. However, there is no guarantee that Maduro would listen to what the Assembly says even though they have a lot of power in determining the laws. If Maduro were to step down from his position as president, the Venezuelan government may have a chance to take a more democratic approach compared to the current one, providing the opportunity to reduce corruption and potentially benefit the economy. 

Photo from Shutterstock.