Maduro’s political position strength, as Supreme Leader of Venezuela is shaking, as his concentration of power enrages the opposition. On January 5th, Maduro claimed control of the National Assembly, the country’s last independent institution. During the last congressional leadership elections, Maduro’s aligned representatives physically barred the opposition’s candidates from the building. A further step to consolidate his grip on power, which only served to muddy already cloudy waters.
Planned future towards presidency
On December 8th 2012, Chávez announced on television, before leaving to Havana for a surgery to treat cancer from which he would never recover from, that his successor would be Vice President and Chancellor Nicolás Maduro. Chávez praised Maduro, since when the former was in prison serving a two-year sentence after the failed coup in February 1992, Maduro together with Cilia Flores, who was one of the commander’s lawyers, fought and rebelled claiming for his release. Maduro and Cilia Flores would later become husband and wife. Therefore, from the very beginning, he became a trusted man for Chávez. After 14 years of Chavista rule, his death on March 5th 2013, left an immense political vacuum. As stipulated in the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, upon declaration of the President’s death, presidential elections had to take place. And they immediately did, on April 14th 2013. At that point, the interim president ran against Henrique Capriles. Maduro won with a difference of only 200.000 votes, only a difference of 1.59% separated both candidates. For this extremely small difference, Capriles confirmed that he would not recognise Maduro’s legitimate election until the votes were recounted again. The National Election Council decided to conduct an audit of the ballots, though Capriles refused to participate in the audit, Maduro was sworn in as president on April 19th 2013.
Despite the suspicion of fraud, it did not prevent the opposition from participating in the following December 2013 regional and local elections. These elections were affected by post-election violence, due to the former fraud and it was formed by the more radical sectors in the opposition, these being Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez. As Maduro led-government became more radicalised, along with severe economic problems, including high inflation and some food, consumer goods and foreign currency shortages, they may have contributed to the decision by the aforementioned radical leaders to spearhead an opposition street rebellion in early February 2014. Again, a large proportion of demonstrators came from student ranks, and the protests resulted in several deaths, scores injured, and hundreds arrested. These events, then, illustrate once again the continuing coexistence of radical and institutionalised opposition strategies in a situation of political polarisation in the post-Chávez era.
Political Ideology: Chávez’s legacy on fleek
Chavismo is the political regime that was established by Hugo Chávez after his presidential election victory of 1999. Chávez’s administration has been labelled by many scholars as personalistic, popular, populist, pro-poor, revolutionary, participatory, socialist, Castroite, fascist, competitive authoritarian, soft authoritarian, third-world oriented, polarising and oil-addicted.
This political ideology brings together the marriage between radicals and government officers. As such, this furthers the proximity between Chavismo and liberal democracy. This is indicated by the charisma of Chávez. Chávez styled himself as the leader of the “Bolivarian Revolution”, a socialist program for much of Latin America, named after Simón Bolívar, the South American independence from Spain hero. The focus of the revolution has been subject to change due to Chávez’s goals, which include nationalism, a centralised economy and a strong military actively engaged in public projects. Overall, he saw himself as a democratic socialist, who wanted to build a participatory democracy, institute a basic welfare system, and address Venezuela’s chronic social problems.
Parallels between the oil industry and Chavismo
The oil industry in Venezuela is controlled by Pétroles de Venezuela (PDVSA), which earns the largest share of Venezuela’s foreign exchange. It was first nationalised in 1976 under the government of Andrés Pérez (1970s-80s). This event increased the state’s capacity to extract revenues from the oil industry. During his mandate, Andrés Pérez invested heavily in developing Venezuela’s manufacturing base in an attempt to dissuade the country’s heavy dependence on imports.
By the time Chávez came to power in 1999, PDVSA had gained significant autonomy, however, his government brought the company back under its authority by changing the constitution. Maduro at that time was a member of the National Constituent Assembly that rewrote the constitution, which held large weight from Chávez’s ascent to the presidency. The state’s acquisition of PDVSA meant that many of the company’s oil revenues would directly go to the government and specially to invest in the Chavista social programmes. Contrary to the policy followed by Andrés Pérez, Chávez’s government instead of investing in heavy industry, it concentrated on small and medium enterprises, family run-businesses and the cooperative sector.
By 2003, it was clear that Chavismo was standing on in the fine line between democracy and authoritarianism. This period showed some of the most progressive aspects of Chávez’s government, the implementation of the social policy agency of Misiones. Misiones Bolivarianas; are programs aimed at distributing oil wealth through public development in collaboration with communities put forward between 2002-2006. This involved the construction of a new “geometry of power” built up around communal councils and cooperatives. The problem is that these measures were not institutionalised. Given that these “free checks” were financed by petrodollars, it made the system completely unsustainable and vulnerable to retrenchment, as money would end at some point. This is what occurred during the presidency of Maduro. Prosperous financial eras, carrying oil-price booms and large-scale investment in public services are always followed by declining financial years. The collapse in the price of oil, inflation, capital flight, corruption, impoverishment and social unrest, has been the daily bread for Maduro since he came to power in 2013. The Chavista legacy was tearing apart and losing support since there was no money to grant to people in need. Therefore, he had no other choice but to radicalise even more to maintain the Chavista legacy.
Continuity and change form Chávez to Maduro
Maduro inherited Chávez’s political control mechanisms that have helped his administration to deal with opposition. As well as with restrictive laws over the media and he counted on the executive power’s co-opted armed forces. Despite these advantages, Maduro lacked military experience and negotiating skills, which were necessary at that moment in time. The Chavista political party was in a post-charismatic stage of low oil incomes, thereby, the Bolivarian Revolution was in great difficulty to meet its aims, and as such Maduro had to negotiate to continue handling the highest hierarchy of power in the country.
Regarding foreign policy, Chávez’s administration benefitted from the rise of emerging power and high oil prices. Extractivism attracted many countries to Venezuela which enriched the country’s economy even more. However, when Maduro came to power the booming oil-driven financial years had already ended and many economic allies were also going under harsh economic conditions. But still, the Maduro doctrine managed to survive despite the adversities.
Radicalisation: One Step Back, Two Steps Forward
Maduro has always been underestimated because he had no studies or any intellectual background. His opposition rivals call him “Maburro”, something that the president himself feeds.
Nevertheless, the political twist was triggered by Maduro’s radical opposition led by Leopoldo López after the 2013 elections and the campaign he put forward Plan Guarimba (also called La Salida). The big protests against Maduro and his decision to imprison López for exalting the violence, where 43 people were killed, basically ruined his five-year term. The controversial imprisonment polarised the population in Venezuela even more. Moreover, in 2015, the Chavista government was heavily defeated in Parliament. The defeat was so hard that it annulled their practice of Parliament. However, subsequently the Supreme Court issued a judgement that surprisingly returned Maduro parliamentarian powers. At this point, corruption was undeniable and Maduro’s administration did nothing to hide it. And more worrying, it was clear that nothing could stop Maduro. His motto “one step back, two steps forward” was becoming more real than ever.
As years passed by Maduro became a more charismatic and cunning leader. He left important management tasks to the high command of the army, to whom he entrusted the importation of food and basic products and even the management of the oil company PDVSA, which is basically the only source of income in the country. In addition, by 2018 he decided that it was time to separate from his political father, Chávez, and founded his own political party: Somos Venezuela. His political party has continued to subject Venezuelans to undemocratic governance and made them live in social distancing with the rest of the world. As three quarters of the world have done, due to COVID19, for Venezuelans it’s their everyday bread.
Attempts to remove Maduro from office: Guaidó peeping
All attempts have resulted in vain, as Maduro proved to be more astute than anyone else thought. All the protests headed by Leopoldo López and Henrique Capriles (Maduro’s main opposition leaders), were condemned by Maduro as being fostered by US support. He was an anti-imperialist. And as such in 2017 he announced his intention to convene a Constituent Assembly to draft a new Constitution. Despite the triggering protests and the numerous house arrests conducted under the order of Maduro, he was able to establish a new Constituent Assembly.
However, after his second term election as president in 2019, a new life of opposition appeared with Juan Guaidó coming into the front opposition line. He became the head of the National Assembly, basically the head of the legislature in Venezuela. For the first time in history, he declared himself to be the country’s acting president. A power that was granted to him by the Constitution as Maduro had not been legally elected and Venezuela was without a president. Juan Guaidó has been recognised by 54 countries; consequently Maduro has broken off diplomatic relations with those countries, for example Colombia, when its president Ivan Duque granted its support to Guaidó.
Nevertheless, Maduro’s administration is still backed up by powerful countries like China, Russia and now Iran with the oil tankers trading deal. He also has whole utter back-up from the National Armed Forces and as such he continues to have loads of power to stop the opposition from toppling him. The most recent episode has been during the elections last January of the National Assembly. The armed forces physically prevented Juan Guaidó from entering the National Assembly building. Therefore, Luis Parra, who is involved in Maduro’s government was elected, in a successful attempt to remove Guaidó from the political scope.