Venezuela Crisis Deepens

By Ronald J. Morgan

Venezuela has become the worst political crisis in Latin America in decades. And with no end in sight, the human toll is expected to keep rising.

An electoral and constitutional crisis which began taking shape shortly after the opposition won a majority in the 2015 congressional elections has touched off months of opposition street protests which have left 67 dead as of June 13.

The opposition has accused the government of staging a self-coup twice in recent months. The government claims the protests and opposition international lobbying are aimed at forcing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, 54,  from power.

The opposition protests have called for Maduro to call new presidential elections, release so-called political prisoners and  attend to a humanitarian crisis. While many outside observers would like the two sides to enter into serious talks aimed at ending the crisis the Maduro government has so far chosen to defy the right-wing opposition by moving farther to the left.

The decision, May 1, to call a constitutional convention in the midst of a dispute over delayed regional and local elections and the thwarting of congressional power has worsened the impasse. In early April, one of Venezuelas top opposition leaders Henrique Capriles,44, who is serving as governor of Miranda state, was banned from running for the presidency for 15 years by the Venezuelan Comptrollers Office.

The opposition has found its strongest supporter in Luis Almagro, General Secretary of the Organization of American States. Almagro, a former Left foreign minister from Uruguay, has described Venezuela as a dictatorship which should be condemned internationally. The criticism has led Venezuela to withdrawal from the OAS, a process which will take until 2019. Resurgent righ-wing parties in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay have expelled Venezuela from the Mercosur trade organization last December due to a dispute over entrance requirements just as Venezuela was about to assume leadership of the organization.

So far, the U.S. strategy has been to focus criticism on alleged human rights abuses, and corruption. In a new twist on the execution of American power, the United States has chosen to target sanctions against Venezuelan individuals. Sanctions against the Venezuelan economy as a whole are not being imposed in order to prevent further hardship. The U.S. congress passed the Venezuela Defense of Rights and Civil Society Act. in 2014.

Among the charges leveled by the United States are a Aug. 2016 federal cocaine trafficking indictment against Interior Minister Nestor Luis Reverol. Vice President Tareck Al Aissami also has been alleged by the United States to be involved in drug trafficking. Two nephews of First Lady Cilia Flores have also been charged with cocaine trafficking.

The U.S. government has imposed visa restrictions on 60 persons which it accuses of undermining democracy. Asset blocking orders were also issued under the Barack Obama administration.

Recently, the United States targeted members of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. The sanctions were for interfering with numerous democratic initiatives by the opposition controlled congress.

In 2016, $6.5 million in democracy assistance to the opposition was approved. Outgoing President Obama budgeted $5.5 million in his proposed 2017 budget. Covert assistance could be significant as well.

Human Rights  and democracy critics allege that Maduro has been ruling largely by emergency decree since 2013 and that he is kept in power by a triad of the National Election Council, the Supreme Court and the Military. The United States has expressed concern about a May 17 announcement to issue arms to a 500,000 Milicia Nacional Bolivariana to protect the state.

After an escalating crisis in 2016, Venezuela now stands at the precipice of a less democratic socialism or a harrying collapse that could have untold effects for years. How the Latin American Left, in general, is perceived could also be affected.

Unfortunately, the death of President Hugo Chavez  in 2013, brought his hand picked successor to power just as oil prices began collapsing. Maduro won the April 2013 election by a narrow 1.4% vote. The opposition alleged the vote included numerous irregularities. The refusal of the National Election Commission to carry out a full recount lead to violent 2014 protests known as La Salida or the Exit. Some 48 persons were killed.  The government arrested protest leader Leopoldo Lopez and sentenced him to 14 years in prison in a trial that has been criticized by human rights organizations. Other political opposition members have also been arrested.

The opposition has responded with a campaign to rally international support calling for their release. And over the past two years they have garnered increasing support from a number of nations.

Starting in 2015, the government began moving to thwart growing right-wing opposition power. The opposition won a majority in the Dec. 6, 2015 General Assembly elections. The opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática, MUD coalition won 172 seats to the official Partido Socialista Unido, PSUV´s 55.  The election, which on the surface seemed to be a major gain for the opposition, began a serious disruption in democratic procedures. The outgoing assembly packed the supreme court with 13 new judges . The Supreme Court then reduced the opposition´s majority by 3 seats, disqualifying three congressional candidates in the Amazonas state.

See Venezuela: Will New Congress Be The Boss?

Later, the Supreme Court became a recurring break on the General Assembly by blocking bills and approving emergency powers and enabling decrees.

In 2016, the opposition MUD began a recall election effort against Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan constitution contains procedures for such an election but the Venezuelan Election Commission delayed the procedure throughout 2016 and then on Oct. 21, 2016 it  permanently blocked the drive.

Scheduled  local and regional elections also were delayed. Regional elections due in 2016, were recently rescheduled for December  2017. Local elections will also be in December.

CORRECTION Regional elections for state governors and state assemblies will be held Dec. 10. Municipal elections will not be held in 2017.

The regional election vote could be delayed by actions of the new constitutional convention.

Presidential elections are scheduled for 2018 and recently, in May, after announcing the constitutional convention, President Maduro promised that they will be held.

The recall and election crisis touched off a number of protests. But the situation grew more serious when on April 1, the Supreme Court issued a ruling limiting the General Assembly´s powers and revoking the legal immunity for congressmen. This decision was later modified but had already touched off charges of an attempted self-coup by the Maduro government. Major Easter protests began and are still under way. As of this article there have been over two months of protests. Violence is escalating  and ten of thousands of Venezuelans are caught in the middle of the growing power struggle.There have been deaths on both sides.

The Venezuelan political stand off has been accompanied by a historic economic depression. During the 14 years of Chavez rule the country had reduced poverty by 20% and expanded social and economic opportunities. But the tremendous drop in oil prices in 2013, brought a unraveling of the economic fabric. A major humanitarian crisis has occurred, including shortages of medicines, food, water, healthcare and clothing. Hiper inflation is making the crisis worse.

The collapse of the Venezuelan economy has brought repeated calls for immediate changes in the government´s policies. The opposition has accused Maduro of mounting a self-coup because  he is too weak politically to continue to prevail in upcoming elections. The Maduro government has said that currently the situation is too unstable for elections and economic decline is the result of economic sabotage by the Right.

The decision by Maduro to call a Constitutional Assembly has brought the most serious criticism that the government is engaging in a self-coup and that Venezuelan democracy is going to be further harmed. Maduro, however, has said the convention will be the foundation for a new peace.

The procedures for the constitutional convention do not include a vote by the populace to authorize the holding of the convention. Delegates will also be elected in a nontraditional manner.  There will be 545 assembly delegates. 364 will be elected by territory i.e. states and cities. Some 173 will be elected from grass roots social sectors and 8 delegates will come from indigenous communities.The election is scheduled for July 30.

The opposition has charged that the assembly will be packed with a pro Maduro majority and will be used to ensure continued official party dominance of the political system. They will not accept the activation of a Constituent Assembly and have called upon the military to intervene and for the president to resume the calendar of elections and ensure the presidential elections scheduled for 2018.

The dispute over the Constitutional Convention has lead National Prosecutor  Luisa Ortega Díaz, 59, to confront the Maduro government over the legality of the procedures and has thrust her into the limelight as new opposition figure.

Former presidents of Spain, Panama and the Dominican Republic as well as Pope Francis have attempted to mediate between the two sides. Special U.S. Envoy Tom Shannon has also engaged in talks with Nicolas Maduro. But the opposition seems reluctant to enter into further ,mediation efforts. The crisis has heightened with the call for Maduro to resign and for the Constitutional Convention to be rejected.

In the streets, violence is increasing along with police repression. Use of military courts to try some protesters is also causing concern among human rights monitors. Since April there have been 3, 132 arrested according to Foro Penal Venezuela.

The issue of what role foreign governments should play in criticizing Venezuela for its internal actions has left a split in Latin America. Vociferous support for the Maduro government still exists among most elected Left governments and former Left Presidents. More centrist governments have been stepping up criticism and advocating a dialogue as the only avenue left to prevent outbreak of possible major violence.

A meeting of the Left Comunidad de Estados Latinoamericanos y Caribeños (CELAC),  regional Latin American body May 2, in San Salvador could not create a consensus document on the situation in Venezuela. Venezuela had called the meeting to discuss the situation and explain its position on the current crisis.

The OAS also is having problems reaching a consensus on what should be done about the Venezuela crisis.  So far, the proposals of Secretary General Almagro have not been acceptable to all.  The May 31 General Assembly meeting failed to produce a two-thirds support for any position on the Venezuela crisis. Most, however, see a negotiated internally reached solution as the only way out of  the impasse. A renewed effort is scheduled for June 19 to 21.

Numerous useful articles, reports and documents have emerged during this season of protests. I have put in some of the ones that seem useful in trying to update knowledge of Venezuela and to help form an opinion of the current crisis.

SOURCES

Protests

Timeline of the 2017 Venezuelan protests https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_the_2017_Venezuelan_protests

Cronología: 64 muertos en protestas en Venezuela hasta el 31 de mayo http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/sociedad/cronologia-muertos-protestas-venezuela-hasta-mayo_182987 ..

Constitutional Convention

Nicolás Maduro: Constituyente es el camino a la paz en Venezuela http://www.telesurtv.net/news/-Nicolas-Maduro-Constituyente-es-el-camino-a-la-paz-en-Venezuela-20170518-0004.html

Pdte. Maduro convoca a Asamblea Nacional Constituyente https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EFC0_VKqpWU&feature=youtu.be

Nuevo Constituyente en 7 preguntas http://www.elespectador.com/noticias/el-mundo/entienda-en-siete-preguntas-como-se-elegira-la-constituyente-de-maduro-articulo-696080

Venezuela opposition blasts president’s plan to rewrite constitution and delay elections https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/24/venezuela-nicolas-maduro-constitution-elections-delay

 Humanitarian Crisis, Refugees

Venezuela’s Humanitarian Crisis https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/10/24/venezuelas-humanitarian-crisis/severe-medical-and-food-shortages-inadequate-and

Venezuelans leave 21st-century socialism for US, Spain http://www.dw.com/en/venezuelans-leave-21st-century-socialism-for-us-spain/a-18815399

Venezuela’s Lost Generation https://www.buzzfeed.com/karlazabludovsky/the-brain-drain-from-venezuela?utm_term=.twYlGOe55#.tbgwjBLxx

Human Rights

Human Rights Watch Blog https://www.hrw.org/es/americas/venezuela

Henrique Capriles banned from public office http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/04/henrique-capriles-venezuela-banned-public-office-170407230838078.html

Venezuela opposition leader Capriles banned from politics http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39534732

Venezuela Prosecutor Decries Maduro Plan, Unrest Worsens https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-05-22/venezuela-prosecutor-decries-maduros-new-congress-plan-deepening-riftOAS fails to agree on Venezuela as protests continue http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-40118288

Political Overview

Has Venezuela reached a tipping point’?http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/upfront/2017/05/venezuela-reached-tipping-point-170519081258186.html

What Is to Be Done in Venezuela? https://www.thenation.com/article/what-is-to-be-done-in-venezuela/

Venezuela’s irreconcilable visions for the future http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39980403

Why is Venezuela Spiraling Out of Control? http://fpif.org/why-is-venezuela-spiraling-out-of-control/

El Tiempo: ¿Qué sostiene a Nicolás Maduro en el poder? http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/gda/tiempo-que-sostiene-nicolas-maduro-poder_179789

Bolivia dice que Venezuela no necesita protectorados http://www.eldeber.com.bo/bolivia/Bolivia-dice-que-Venezuela-no-necesita-protectorados-20170531-0057.html

25 ex presidentes alertaron a cancilleres de la OEA sobre Venezuela

http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/politica/presidentes-alertaron-cancilleres-oea-sobre-venezuela_184852

¿Quién financia la violencia opositora en Venezuela?https://actualidad.rt.com/actualidad/239831-financia-violencia-opositora-venezuela

“Opposition does not want democracy or elections” https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/venezuelan-opposition-does-not-want-democracy-or-elections/

The Need to Radicalise the Bolivarian Revolution (Part 2) https://zcomm.org/znetarticle/the-need-to-radicalise-the-bolivarian-revolution-part-2/

Radiografía de la violencia en Venezuela
http://www.eltelegrafo.com.ec/noticias/columnistas/1/radiografia-de-la-violencia-en-venezuela

¿Por qué los organismos internacionales no dicen nada de los líderes revolucionarios asesinados en manifestaciones opositoras en ?.

Venezuela opposition blasts president’s plan to rewrite constitution and delay elections https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/24/venezuela-nicolas-maduro-constitution-elections-delay

United States and Organization of American States

U.S. senators seek sanctions, other ways to address Venezuela crisis http://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-usa-congress-exclusive-idUSKBN17Z13Z

US slaps sanctions on Venezuela Supreme Court judges http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/slaps-sanctions-venezuela-supreme-court-judges-170519052123333.html

Venezuela And The OAS: The Logic Of Withdrawal http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/venezuela-and-the-oas-the-logic-of-withdrawal_us_590389c8e4b084f59b49f8b5?ncid=engmodushpmg00000004

OAS, Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Situation in Venezuela, May 30, 2016, at http://www.oas.org/documents/eng/press/OSG-243.en.pdf

Overview of recent events, especially 2016. Venezuela: Issues for Congress, 2013-2016 https://fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R43239.pdf

Maduro prometió un ‘fusil para cada miliciano’ http://www.elnuevoherald.com/noticias/mundo/america-latina/venezuela-es/article145054754.html

OAS, Report of the Secretary General to the Permanent Council on the Situation in Venezuela, May 30, 2016, at http://www.oas.org/documents/eng/press/OSG-243.en.pdf

Estados Unidos estrecha el cerco alrededor de Nicolás Maduro http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/politica/estados-unidos-estrecha-cerco-alrededor-nicolas-maduro_184724

Corruption

International Narcotics Control Strategy Report Volume I Drug and Chemical Control March 2017

Implican a Nicolás Maduro en el escándalo de Odebrecht http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/bbc-mundo/implican-nicolas-maduro-escandalo-odebrecht_182086

Economy

Venezuela’s worst economic crisis: What went wrong? http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/05/venezuela-worst-economic-crisis-wrong-170501063130120.html

El petróleo en Venezuela, un sector en crisis profunda sin visos de mejora http://www.el-nacional.com/noticias/petroleo/petroleo-venezuela-sector-crisis-profunda-sin-visos-mejora_184175

Goldman Sachs makes an irresponsible deal with the corrupt Venezuela regimehttps://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/goldman-sachs-makes-an-irresponsible-deal-with-the-corrupt-venezuela-regime/2017/06/04/f3e3994c-47a8-11e7-bcde-624ad94170ab_story.html?utm_term=.d29c993aff42

Venezuela Gasps On Capitalist Bond Buying: Goldman & Spinhttp://www.barrons.com/articles/venezuela-gasps-on-capitalist-bond-buying-goldman-spin-1496250006?mod=yahoobarrons&ru=yahoo&yptr=yahoo

Russia to Ship 60,000 Tons of Wheat to Venezuela in Major Deal http://www.telesurtv.net/english/news/Russia-to-Ship-60000-Tons-of-Wheat-to-Venezuela-in-Major-Deal-20170519-0022.html

Venezuela and China Sign New $2.7 Billion Development Deal

Pope Francis hints at new mediation initiative in Venezuela http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/05/01/inenglish/1493639890_646588.html

Leaders attempt dialogue between Venezuela government, opposition http://edition.cnn.com/2016/05/29/americas/venezuela-political-dialogue/

Finaliza la Celac en El Salvador sin resolución por ausencia de 7 paíseshttp://www.elsalvador.com/noticias/nacional/344180/inicia-sesion-de-la-celac-en-el-salvador-pese-a-escasa-asistencia-de-cancilleres/

Pope Francis hints at new mediation initiative in Venezuela http://elpais.com/elpais/2017/05/01/inenglish/1493639890_646588.html

 

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About morganworld982014

In recent years I've been living in South America and writing occasional articles that touch on human rights and social issues in Latin America. Ronald J. Morgan
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