What You Should Know About Venezuela’s Crisis
By Valeria Lau
January 23rd, 2019 — The president of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, proclaimed himself President of the Republic. Immediately following this announcement, several nations — the first of them being the USA — began recognizing Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. Nicolás Maduro, the dictator of Venezuela who had, up to now, served as ‘president’ of the nation, was quick to cry foul play and to cut all diplomatic ties with the United States.
While many are praising Guaidó as the first symbol of hope the country has seen in years, some are accusing the Trump administration of exploitative foreign intervention, claiming the recognition of Guaidó as a “coup” orchestrated by Western powers to destabilize the region. Now, what does this all actually mean?
A good way to approach the issue is to begin by understanding the current situation of ‘president’ Nicolás Maduro. Here is a (brief) rundown: Having been appointed as Hugo Chávez’ successor after his death, Maduro has been in power since 2013. He attained and maintained the presidency by a series of hotly contested elections with many accusations of illegal electoral practices. Under Maduro, Venezuelan living conditions have worsened dramatically.
The failed policies of both Chávez and Maduro have resulted in the highest inflation rate in the world and an increase in crime, disease, poverty, and hunger. In 2018, Venezuela held what was considered to be a “show election”. Most opposition politicians were barred from running, members of the opposition were imprisoned, and the voter turnout was the lowest in Venezuelan history.
The international community condemned this fraudulent election. The Organization of American States, the European Union, the Lima Group, upon many others, deemed the election illegitimate. It follows naturally that Nicolás Maduro’s presidency is now widely considered to be illegitimate.
So, who is Juan Guaidó? And why is he being recognized as president by dozens of nations? Guaidó began his public life as a leader of 2007 anti-Chávez student movements. Since 2015, he has served as a legislator in the opposition-controlled National Assembly, of which he was recently elected president. This body, which remains the last government institution that is widely considered as legitimate and democratically-elected, can be compared to Congress in the USA.
Just a few days after the illegitimate inauguration of Maduro into his second presidential term, the National Assembly announced Guaidó as the legitimate president of the republic. It is important to note that the National Assembly followed several clauses of the Venezuelan constitution when making this decision, and that the stated intentions of the Assembly and Guaidó himself are to establish an interim government that will re-establish a constitutional democracy with fair, transparent elections.
Here is a useful analogy of the situation provided by The Wall Street Journal’s David Luhnow (edited for brevity):
“Imagine: Democrats win a resounding 2/3 majority in Congress. Stunned, Trump gets courts to declare Congress null and void, ignores its decisions. Top democratic leaders are arrested or forced into exile. Some are tortured. Trump then heads for re-election. But his administration bars any top Democrat from running. The Democrats boycott the election. Trump holds it anyway and wins! No credible observers are allowed. Even the guy who set up the electronic voting system says there’s fraud. Congress, meanwhile, says he’s an illegitimate president. And, according to law, they swear in the head of Congress as the legitimate president until new elections can be held. That interim president is recognized by many nations.”
Without understanding the complexity of the situation and the illegitimacy of Maduro’s claim to power, the reactions of many Western liberals can be understandable — they mistrust the Trump administration’s intentions. With the United States’ history of interventionism, this is not surprising. However, no matter the true intentions behind Trump’s recognition of Guaidó, this shouldn’t lead to a condemnation of the act itself. Dozens of states have recognized Juan Guaidó, including Canada and the majority of South American states. This regional support is going by fairly unnoticed by those who are alarmed by USA’s stance on Venezuela; many assume that the international movement is planned by the USA instead of being a necessary response from all democratic states.
Many media outlets have been over-simplifying and distorting the situation through misleading language, such as characterizing Maduro as a “left-wing, socialist leader” or dubbing the opposition a “far-right organization”. The truth is, neither of these sides of the spectrum remotely apply to Venezuela’s political landscape. Juan Guaidó is far from being a right-wing leader — the political party that he spearheads identifies itself as a social-democratic party. Socialist International, an association of political parties that seeks to promote democratic socialism, is in the process of recognizing Guaidó as president. There is absolutely no basis to claims of right-wing tendencies in the opposition; the only political identities that it has truly been able to develop have been pro-democracy, anti-government stances.
As for Maduro’s so-called socialism? If you try to find it, you might be looking for a while. What you will find instead might be that his “revolution” is ripe with authoritarian practices, government-sponsored crime, rampant corruption, censorship, and more. The government elite leads luxurious and comfortable lives while thousands starve in the streets of Venezuela. Hardly what you would expect from a socialist government.
Venezuela has become an unlivable place. Supermarkets are empty, essential medicines are scarce, and power cuts are increasingly common. Crime is rampant. Many Venezuelans rely on a handful of American dollars sent by relatives in other countries to buy whatever groceries they can get their hands on. Students just like us risk their lives in protest after protest to fight for a better future. Through the news, I’ve seen the place that was once my home shift into a terrifying landscape of crime, hunger, and desperation. As I watch this presidential crisis unfold, I hope that my North American friends will fully understand the complexity of the situation. I hope that they will not attempt to use Venezuela as a flawed example to push anti-socialism narratives. I hope that they will not throw their support behind a dictator simply to contradict a decision by the Trump administration.