A socioeconomic and political crisis that after Hugo Chavez officially took office in February 1999, continued into Nicolas Maduro. It is marked by hyperinflation, climbing hunger, disease, crime and death rates, an massive emigration from the country.
Several policy changes involving the country’s oil industry were made to explicitly tie it to the state under his “Bolivarian Revolution and using high oil prices in the 2000s on his populist policies and to gain support from voters, resulted in the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history, and among the worst crisis experienced in the Americas.
Today, the “Chavistas” want Chávez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, to continue much of the Chávez policies of socialism, while the rich, middle class and the United States want Juan Guaido for his promise of privatization.
Here’s a run-down of how Venezuela got to today.
- By 1998, most people in Venezuela had grown tired of the prevailing two-party system that had alternated in power since 1958.
- A lot of these voters, reluctant to use their brains instead of their hearts, elected a charismatic retired lieutenant-colonel, Hugo Chávez, as president.
- While he denied it at first, Chavez gradually spurned a long-term commercial relationship with the U.S. and Europe, favoring trade with Russia, China, Iran and other anti-American countries.
- Chavez was a long-standing admirer of Fidel Castro and the Cuban “revolution” and thought it might be a good idea to implement its tenets in Venezuela.
- He quickly began to turn against the private sector, confiscating millions of acres of productive land, factories and other means of production from farms, industrialists and entrepreneurs.
- As tax revenues shrank as a consequence of the negative effect of his policies on the economy, he turned his greedy eyes on PDVSA, the state-owned oil company and the country’s cash cow, as a source of revenue.
- After taking over the management of PDVSA by firing its board of directors and substituting them for his ignorant cronies, he began to drain PDVSA’s financial resources, halting exploration and the development of new fields and increased production.
- In retaliation for his acts, the PDVSA workforce went on strike, paralyzing oil shipments from Venezuela for a brief period of time.
- Subsequently, he summarily fired over 20,000 workers on live television using a whistle to announce their dismissal. He then proceeded to hand over shipping operations to private operators chosen by him, which made them millionaires overnight.
- On April 11, 2003, Chávez was briefly removed from power in a misguided and ill-conceived coup d’etat. He returned 48 hours later and began to persecute those responsible for the failed coup and thousands of innocent people who had nothing to do with it.
- As oil prices rose, Chávez began a continental bid for diplomatic influence by currying favor from every country willing to accept Venezuelan oil at discounted prices and began to buy allegiances from every other leader willing to accept his (the Venezuelan people’s, actually) money and favors. In the meantime, he also launched billions of dollars’ worth of largely unfinished infrastructure projects that made millionaires and sometimes billionaires members of his own family and government associates.
- His infatuation with Cuba increased and he entered into a pact with Castro to exchange oil for “technical assistance” which resulted in the passport and ID card agencies, notaries and registries as well as military intelligence services falling into Cuban hands.
- As opposition to the regime increased, he began to imprison, torture and kill hundreds of people who marched and demonstrated against the government; repression became the norm and secret jails and torture centers proliferated. Oil prices fell and the country’s booming economy went bust.
- In 2013, Chávez died and the hope to restore democracy saw a glimmer of light, which unfortunately quickly faded as all the democratic institutions had been kidnapped by Communist agents who organized fraudulent elections, prosecuted innocent people, jailed or killed protesters, and ran the economy further into the ground as they made millions in the process.
- On his deathbed, Chávez named an inept but loyal follower and because of his good relations with other Chavista hard-liners, Nicolás Maduro, as his successor. Elections (controlled by the government) were held and, of course, Maduro was elected.
- Upon the death of Hugo Chávez on March 5, 2013, Maduro assumed the powers and responsibilities of the president. He appointed Jorge Arreaza to take his place as vice president. Since Chávez died within the first four years of his term, the Constitution of Venezuela states that a presidential election had to be held within 30 days of his death.
- Maduro was unanimously adopted as the Socialist Party’s candidate in that election. At the time of his assumption of temporary power, opposition leaders argued that Maduro violated articles of the Venezuelan Constitution, by assuming power over the president of the National Assembly.
- In April 2013, Maduro was elected president, narrowly defeating opposition candidate Henrique Capriles with just 1.5% of the vote separating the two. Maduro was inaugurated as president on April 19. In October 2013, he announced the creation of a new agency, the Vice Ministry of Supreme Happiness, to coordinate social programs.
- In his speech during the short ceremony in which he formally took over the powers of the president, Maduro said: “Compatriots, I am not here out of personal ambition, out of vanity, or because my surname Maduro is a part of the rancid oligarchy of this country. I am not here because I represent financial groups, neither of the oligarchy nor of American imperialism … I am not here to protect mafias nor groups nor factions.”
- In 2014 there was increased resistance and numerous anti-government demonstrations, which resulted in hundreds of civilians killed or imprisoned.
- In 2015, elections were held for the National Assembly (Congress), which the Opposition parties handily won, a defeat that Maduro has not yet been able to accept.
- Opposition leaders in Venezuela delivered a May 2016 petition to the National Electoral Council (CNE) calling for a recall referendum, with the popular to vote on whether to remove Maduro from office.
- After delays in verification of the signatures, protestors alleged the government was intentionally delaying the process. The government, in response, argued the protestors were part of a plot to topple Maduro. On 1 August 2016, CNE announced that enough signatures had been validated for the recall process to continue.
- 2017 was another year of turmoil as the economy collapsed, outbreaks of famine and disease became commonplace, repression by the police and National Guard increased, and hundreds more were killed or jailed while hundreds of thousands of people began to flee the country.
- In May 2017, Maduro proposed the 2017 Venezuelan Constituent Assembly election, which was later held on 30 July 2017 despite wide international condemnation, formed by his most radical followers; its main task to try to do away with the legally-elected Assembly.
- The United States sanctioned Maduro following the election, labeling him as a “dictator”, preventing him from entering the United States. Other nations, such as China, Russia, and Cuba offered their support to Maduro and the Constituent Assembly elections.
- The situation worsened in 2018. The presidential elections, whose original electoral date was scheduled for December 2018, was subsequently pulled ahead to April 22, before being pushed back to 20 May 20. Analysts described the poll as a show election, with the elections having the lowest voter turnout in the country’s democratic era.
- Beginning six months after being elected, Maduro was given the power to rule by decree by the pre-2015 Venezuelan legislature and later by the Supreme Tribunal (since 15 January 2016) in order to address the ongoing economic crisis in the country.
- The Venezuelan opposition claimed that the legislature’s power had been usurped by the court.
- Maduro’s His presidency has coincided with a decline in Venezuela’s socioeconomic status, with crime, inflation, poverty and hunger increasing. Thousands of Venezuelans left their country seeking opportunities abroad, many of them college graduates and skilled workers who have contributed to the economies of the countries that have taken them in.
- Analysts have attributed Venezuela’s decline to both Chávez and Maduro’s economic policies, while Maduro has blamed speculation and economic warfare waged by his political opponents.
- A 2018 Amnesty International report “accused Nicolas Maduro’s government of committing some of the worst human rights violations in Venezuela’s history”, according to VOA news.
- Many other countries began to impose sanctions on the Maduro regime to stem the bloodletting repression, rampant corruption and the economic collapse.
- With widespread condemnation, Maduro was sworn in on 10 January 2019. Minutes after he took the oath, the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution declaring his presidency illegitimate, and calling for new elections.
- The National Assembly invoked a state of emergency, and some nations removed their embassies from Venezuela, with Colombia, and the United States saying Maduro was converting Venezuela into a de facto dictatorship.
- The president of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, was declared the interim president by that body on January 23, 2019; the US, Canada, Brazil and several Latin American countries supported Guaidó as interim president the same day; Russia, China, and Cuba supported Maduro.
- The support for Guaido continued at home and over 50 countries around the world.
- The United States Department of State issued a communication stating that Maduro had used unconstitutional means and a “sham electoral system” to maintain an unlawful presidency that is not recognized by most of Venezuela’s neighbors.
- Maduro disputed Guaidó’s claim and broke off diplomatic ties with several nations who recognized Guaidó’s claim. Maduro’s government states that the crisis is a “coup d’état led by the United States to topple him and control the country’s oil reserves.”
The struggle to restore democracy continues today. Maduro is leaning on Russia and China, who have an extensive financial investment in Venezuela, for support while the United States, Lima Group (of which Canada is part of), the European Union and other democratic nations that support Guaido.