Why has Venezuela not yet established itself

Venezuela: ways into the crisis, ways out of the crisis

ARTE Info: Demonstrators accuse Maduro of leading the country into a dictatorship. But hasn't the political system been in a transition between democracy and autocracy for years - and has it been since Chavez?

To person:

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte is Professor of Political Science at the University of Hamburg. His focus is on the politics of Central and South America. Among other things, he researches political systems, regional organizations and foreign policy strategies. He also deals with the domestic politics of the individual countries, as well as their political, sociological and economic development. Since 2006 he has headed the GIGA Institute for Latin American Studies, an independent social science research institute based in Hamburg.

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte: Hugo Chavez was not a model democrat either and showed strong authoritarian tendencies. The big difference between the regime under Chavez and that under Maduro is that Chavez has always been able to legitimize himself through democratic elections and always had a majority of the population behind him, while Maduro actually only won the election once. That was the successor election to Hugo Chavez, the result was extremely close and was called into question by the opposition. He clearly lost the next election, the parliamentary elections in December 2015. There are actually regional elections this year, but they have been postponed. Ultimately, Maduro shies away from elections because he knows he will lose them. In principle, a referendum would also have been necessary before the constituent assembly election. He got around that by reinterpreting the constitution. All in all, one can say that the transition to an autocratic system was a gradual process under Chavez, but under Maduro an increase can be seen again.

Maduro has numerous critics, but also many sympathizers, as the narrow result in his election as president in 2013 showed. Why is the country so divided?

The original split goes back to the election of Hugo Chavez.

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte - 31/07/2017

The original split dates back to the 1998 election of Hugo Chavez, who took over the fifth republic wanted to build and overhaul the political system. That was not supported by large sections of the opposition at the time and is ultimately the core of the split. The current polarization is due to the fact that the opposition clearly won the parliamentary elections in December 2015 - with the expectation of forming a counterweight to the government. There was even hope that the government could be removed by a two-thirds majority. This was narrowly missed because the government did not recognize the results in some constituencies. After that, the government neutralized parliament with the help of the equal justice system and withdrew more and more powers from it. The opposition's efforts to initiate a referendum against the president were also blocked. In the end, every opportunity for the opposition to protest against the government through institutions and to put it in its place was blocked. That is why she has been taking to the streets more and more since the beginning of the year.

What options are left for the opposition to take action against the government?

On the one hand, the opposition is relying on pressure from abroad, which could lead to negotiations. But the opposition will only agree to this if it has the feeling that the regime really wants to negotiate. On the other hand, I think the protests will continue and the deaths will continue. In the long term, it cannot be ruled out that parts of the opposition will radicalize further.

Hundreds of people are supposed to protect the opposition's daily demonstrations. Again and again there is violence between the police and demonstrators. © Juan BARRETO

Venezuela is not only in a political but also in an economic crisis. What are the reasons for this?

Venezuela is considered to be one of the most corrupt countries in Latin America. Less crude oil is currently being produced than in previous years, because over the years one has not invested in the infrastructure in the oil sector, but has put the money in one's own pocket.

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte - 31/07/2017

In terms of foreign exchange income, the country lives almost 100 percent from the export of oil. When the price of oil was very high, it was very easy to govern. A very progressive social policy, for example, improved the situation of the poor and that was suddenly over when the oil price plummeted. For a while there was an attempt to continue this policy and the state became indebted as a result. Today the oil price is still low, the state is heavily indebted and social benefits can only be partially granted. As a result, we see that the supermarkets are empty and there are hardly any medicines left because the state has almost no foreign currency to import.

Ultimately, this mistake goes back to Chavez's time. In the times of the oil boom, no efforts were made to diversify the economy and make the country less dependent on oil. Then there is mismanagement and corruption, because Venezuela is one of the most corrupt countries in Latin America. Less crude oil is currently being produced than in previous years, because for years one has not invested in the infrastructure in the oil sector, but has put the money in one's own pocket. It is the combination of mismanagement, the attempt to introduce a planned economy and the low price of oil that has led to the economic disaster.

Which future scenarios are conceivable for you?

There is Beijing model. This means that the government gets away with the repression and at some point smashes or muzzles the opposition and establishes a kind of one-party rule. In principle, that would be a covert military dictatorship and that only works if the military fully supports the government.

The second scenario is optimistic. Pressure from abroad could lead to a split within the regime and groups willing to negotiate could prevail. A transition could be negotiated in negotiations between the opposition and the regime. In the meantime, however, a lot of blood has flowed and the question would be how these crimes would be dealt with.

A third scenario is a military coup. The military is the only actor who could change the balance of power between a suppressed opposition that is still fighting and a regime that has not yet been able to silence the opposition. However, the generals are also heavily involved in the government, what it looks like in the middle ranks is not known.

The fourth scenario is that there will be a violent confrontation and sections of the opposition will arm themselves. The protests weren't all dead - Venezuela is one of the countries with the highest murder and crime rates in Latin America. There are plenty of weapons in the country and certainly also external actors who would be willing to support violent groups.

The protesters fear that President Maduro will lead the country into dictatorship. Since the brief suspension of parliament at the end of March, they have taken to the streets every day. © Elyxandro Cegarra

The US recently imposed sanctions, but otherwise there is little international pressure. What responsibility does the international community have in resolving the conflict?

In the end, there will only be a solution if Latin America develops a strategy and forces the regime to accept international mediation.

Prof. Dr. Detlef Nolte - 31/07/2017

A lot of the blame lies with the Latin American countries. Most governments have waited a long time to take a clear stance on the events in Venezuela, which began under Chavez, and now it may be too late. In many countries there were left-wing governments that had a certain sympathy for the regime. That has changed in a year and a half. There are more and more countries that criticize the conditions in Venezuela: Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Colombia. In this respect, Venezuela's support in Latin America has diminished, but there are still countries like Nicaragua, Cuba, Bolivia, Ecuador and El Salvador that are ideologically close to the regime. In addition, there are small Caribbean countries that could be bought through oil deliveries. That is why it has not yet been possible to win a two-thirds majority within the Organization of American States (OAS) to denounce the breach of Venezuela's democratic order. What can be expected, however, is that Mercosur, South America's common market, will criticize the democratic deficits in Venezuela and possibly suspend its membership.

I believe that there will only be a solution in the end if Latin America, perhaps in cooperation with Europe and the USA, develops a strategy together and forces the regime to accept international mediation. Countries that are closer to the regime, countries that are neutral and countries in which the opposition has confidence will certainly have to take part.

A constituent assembly was elected in Venezuela yesterday. According to official figures, the voter turnout was 41 percent, the opposition speaks of just under 12 percent. Who can we believe?

I believe that the turnout is closer to the opposition's estimate, because the 8 million votes mentioned by the government are more than the current President Maduro ever got in elections. It is unlikely that there would be such high support for the government's goal at this time of crisis. Ultimately, the government had to prove that it got more votes than the opposition, which organized a referendum on July 16. There, more than 7 million allegedly voted against the election of a constituent assembly. Ultimately, the electoral authority is politically controlled and so you shouldn't believe the official figures.

How has the situation in Venezuela developed since the death of Hugo Chavez? ARTE Info summarizes the last four years in a video.