03/27/2019 (Written 02/26/2019)
Since the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, and the end of his 15-year tenure as President of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro has stepped up to fill the role of president. The years following this transition have been marred in crisis after crisis, including runaway inflation of the Bolivar and a shortage of food and medical supplies that have caused an exodus of up to three million Venezuelans. Yet up until recently, the Maduro Presidency has managed to avoid becoming the target of pressure from the international community. However, this has changed following the results of the 2018 presidential election.
The current presidential crisis followed the May 2018 elections in Venezuela in which voters boycotted the elections, resulting in a 46% voter turnout. The election was promptly declared illegitimate by the United States, Canada, the Organization of American States, likewise, the European Union announced that the election was unlawful. A wave of anti-Maduro protests soon followed the election when opposition party leader Juan Guaidó announced that he was ready to assume the office of the president. Guaidó is the first person to directly oppose the authority of Maduro, and he has both the support of the opposition and the wider international community. Guaidó proposes major changes to the Venezuelan economy, such as a transition from a socialist economy to a market economy with fiscal autonomy for regional governments. With this contest for the presidency and the expansion of the conflict to the international level, tensions in Venezuela could come to a head and turn into a major crisis. The question that needs to be addressed is what can be done to prevent the country from further deteriorating?
Currently both the United States and the European Union are attempting to initiate talks with the Maduro government, but have been met with hostility. On the 23rd of January, Maduro ordered US diplomats out of the country within 72 hours. Maduro was quoted as saying “I am the only president of Venezuela, we do not want to return to the 20th century of gringo interventions and coups d’état.” A European Union delegation was also similarly rebuffed upon trying to enter the country. Humanitarian actions are also currently underway. USAID is currently flying food aid into Colombia at the behest of presidential contestant Juan Guaidó. Guaidó had previously announced the intention to mobilize six hundred thousand Venezuelans to transport the aid across the Colombian-Venezuelan border on the 23rd of February. Again, the Maduro administration has responded negatively to this United States intervention. On the 15th, Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez speculated that the aid was, “to poison our population” and insinuated that it was a “biological weapon.” Maduro himself announced that he would employ military forces to block any incoming aid from the United States, declaring that aid was part of a plot to invade Venezuela.
With humanitarian and diplomatic efforts being rebuffed or treated with hostility some policy makers are considering more drastic measures to bring about a change in the Venezuelan regime. In a speech on February 18th, President Donald Trump proclaimed that he was hoping for a peaceful transition of power but, “all options are open”. President Trump also declared that “You can choose to continue to support Maduro. If you choose this path you will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything.” The President has also previously expressed interest in military intervention in Venezuela. Experts on Venezuelan politics, however, are divided as to weather or not intervention be effective in fostering democracy in Venezuela. There is also concern that implementing sanctions will only further exacerbate Venezuela’s economic crisis and the food and medicine shortage.
The instability in Venezuela presents the international community the option to foster a new democracy. The Maduro regime’s rejection of attempts at a diplomatic solution and is rejecting aid which could help de-escalate the situation. As Maduro refuses to yield to mounting pressure from his own people it may be necessary for the international community to provide more hardline support to the people of Venezuela in order to bring about change. While the question of what to do about Venezuela is one with no clear-cut answer, it is one that needs to be considered thoroughly and not taken lightly, as the stability of a nation and the lives of millions of Venezuelans are at stake.
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