By Ronald J. Morgan
Who’s the boss of Venezuela? Recent congressional elections have given the right wing opposition two-thirds control of congress. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has accepted a crushing defeat at the polls but has vowed to keep the upper hand using veto power if necessary.
The current situation, no doubt, is a much better one than what would have been the case if the opposition win had been denied through voter fraud. Venezuela is squarely in the democratic column where Hugo Chavez won his great victories in the first place.
More than 2 million voters shifted into the oppostion column on, Dec. 6, providing a landslide that gave the opposition a two-thirds majority in congress. The opposition won 112 out of 167 seats giving it control over congress for the first time in 16 years. Economic problems were considered to be at the core of the shift in voter preference. Recent news articles have speculated as to how a deep support for the opposition might be.
Maduro called for resignation of his cabinet and quickly brought the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, known as PSUV, together for an emergency congress. Maduro considers the economic situtation to be due to economic sabotage by his private sector opponents.
For certain, the populace is facing severe shortages and the economy is in a nose dive. The economy has contracted 10 percent and inflation is estimated at 200%. And with oil prices depressed at $40 per barrel a turn around will be difficult in a country where oil accounts for 86% of export earnings.
The opposition would no doubt like a neoliberal shock plan put in place with an end to exhange rate controls and price restrictions accompanied by deep government spending cuts but Maduro is still in control of the executive branch and has shown no desire to change economic strategies. The priority will remain continuing the Chavez social revolution. Any progress on the economic front will require some form of accord between the Left and Right to work.
The war to determine who is in control of Venezuela has already begun with a series of moves by the outgoing pro Maduro congress. Plans to name a new slate of supreme court justices and a threat to veto congressional actions are under way. The move to appoint the supreme court justices has already brought a strong attack from Human Rights Watch which contends the supreme court will be able to block many congressional initiatives.
The naming of Susana Barreiros, the judge that sentenced opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez to 14 years in prison for protests in 2014, as Human Rights Defender, also has increased tensions between the ruling PSUV government and the newly elected opposition Democratic Unity Front, known as MUD, congress.
A change in the military command has also raised concern that Maduro may be moving to ensure more control. Rumors have surfaced that Defense Minister General Vladimir Padrino blocked an effort to deny the opposition victory on Dec.6. Padrino is being moved into retirement.
The United States is also expected to announce, shortly, prosecution of Venezuelan Military officers linked to drug trafficking.
So far, the opposition appears to be putting a priority on releasing so called political prisoners arrested during protests in recent years. There are around 80 prisoners who the opposition considers to be political in nature. A return of some oppostion opponents living in exile is also desired. Maduro has, in turn, vowed not to let the prisoners out, arguing their actions caused death.
But ending the Venezuelan economic crisis has to be a top priority for whoever plans to exert leadership over Venezuela. One of the questions facing the opposition is whether to use their two-thirds majority to call for a recall election against Maduro or to undertake a less confrontational policy approach which seeks to right the economic situation.
A major concern will be maintaining unity in the opposition ranks. Former Presidential Candidate Henrique Capriles, of the Primero Justicia Party, represents a more moderate wing while Leopoldo Lopez, the jailed protest leader and head of the Voluntad Popular Party; and Maria Corina Machado of the opposition party SUMATE represent a more radical approach. Capriles has called for a national dialogue and for focussing on economic issues while the radicals favor a recall of Maduro.
The year ahead is expected to bring more economic downturn. And any success by the Maduro administration in doing in the two-thirds majority opposition congress could bring a return of protests. If the opposition were to call and then win a recall referendum new presidential elections would follow.
While many are happy the elections went foreward smoothly the battle over who’s the boss of Venezuela is about to bring tensions back to a fever pitch.
Maduro warned in a speech, Dec. 10, before a special congress of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela: “Its not time for cohabitation nor getting along with the bourgeosie nor with imperialism. This right wing is only preparing to maintain its model of destabalization and continous coup effort utilizing the constitution,” the Agence France Presse reported.
Capriles: Problemas del PSUV no le interesan a mayoría de los venezolanos http://www.eluniversal.com/nacional-y-politica/151212/capriles-problemas-del-psuv-no-le-interesan-a-mayoria-de-los-venezolan
The End of Chavismo? Why Venezuela’s Ruling Party Lost Big, and What Comes Next http://venezuelanalysis.com/analysis/11768
Maduro asks Cabinet to Resign, Plans Restructuring in Face of Electoral Defeat http://venezuelanalysis.com/news/11765
Venezuela: Curb Plan to Pack Supreme Court, Human Rights Watch, Dec. 10, 2015 https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/12/10/venezuela-curb-plan-pack-supreme-court
Un Intento Para Sobrevivir o Un Declaracion de Guerra Clarin, Dec. 11, 2015 http://www.clarin.com/mundo/intento-sobrevivencia-declaracion-guerra_0_1483651968.html
New York Times Editorial: In Venezuela, a Triumph for the Opposition NYT, Dec. 10, 2015 http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/10/opinion/in-venezuela-a-triumph-for-the-opposition.html?smid=tw-share&_r=0
BBC Mundo – 4 retos de la oposición de Venezuela tras su victoria en las elecciones parlamentarias BBC, Dec. 9, 2015 http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/12/151209_venezuela_oposicion_retos_dp?ocid=socialflow_twitter
Atilio Borón Sobre Los Resultos de los Elecciones en Venezuela http://www.psuv.org.ve/temas/noticias/sobre-resultado-elecciones-venezuela/#.VmsFeErhAdV
El futuro de Venezuela, el tema que más discuten los internautas con Eva Golinger, Dec. 8, 2015 https://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/193676-respuestas-directas-rt-eva-golinger
Oficialismo de Venezuela nombra a jueza del caso Leopoldo López como Defensora Pública http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/12/151210_venezuela_lopez_barreiros_defensora_dp?ocid=socialflow_twitter
Venezuela elections: opposition handed mandate for change after landslide win Guardian, Dec. 7, 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/dec/07/venezuela-parliamentary-election-opposition-win-political-prisoners-amnesty?CMP=twt_b-gdnnews
U.S. to bring drug charges against Venezuelan Military Report, Insight Crime Dec. 9, 2015, http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/us-to-bring-drug-charges-against-venezuelan-military-report
Role of Military in Venezuela Elections http://caracaschronicles.com/2015/12/08/a-reed-in-the-wind/
Venezuela: ¿quiénes son los rostros de la nueva oposición en el poder legislativo?http://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/12/151207_venezuela_lideres_figuras_oposicion_elecciones_mr
Derrota del chavismo: el inicio de la batalla en Venezuela http://www.semana.com/mundo/articulo/venezuela-se-avecina-crisis-politica-tras-elecciones/453239-3
Venezuela’s Economic Fractures http://www.cfr.org/economics/venezuelas-economic-fractures/p32853?cid=soc-twitter-in-venezuelas_economic_fractures-bgr-120915