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Venezuelan democracy is collapsing

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George Washington University

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Venezuelan democracy is collapsing

Maduro just disassembled and reassembled Congress. The U.S. should pay closer attention.

Becky Gardner

4.5.17

The Venezuelan high court dissolved Congress on Friday, moving the country one step closer to total dictatorship. After massive public protests, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro did a U-turn and reassembled the National Assembly on Saturday.

The seats on the high court are filled by loyalists to President Maduro, the socialist leader responsible for crippling the economic and political system. When the court stripped the power from the National Assembly last week and assumed legislative duties, they were saying, “we can write the rules, make them laws, and rule them constitutional too.”

This left absolutely no balance of power.

The Secretary General of the Organization of American States called this move “a self-inflicted coup d'état perpetrated by the Venezuelan regime against the National Assembly, the last branch of government to be legitimized by the will of the people of Venezuela." Now the OAS wants to suspend Venezuela.

Venezuela already lost its right to vote in the United Nations General Assembly. For the second year in a row, Venezuela has no votes because it owes tens of millions of dollars in dues. This puts Maduro in an awkward position considering that he just had to ask the United Nations for medicine. The country’s supply of medicine is down 80 percent, and that includes basics like penicillin.

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

The people protested and Congress was reassembled.

Protests in opposition to Maduro’s policies have been consistent since 2014, but surged when the National Assembly was dissolved. In the midst of massive protest and global condemnation, Maduro changed his mind, and the Venezuelan National Assembly stayed intact.

“This controversy is over,” Maduro declared on April 1. The Venezuelan people disagree. Protests have continued despite the reversal. Once again, Maduro has made it clear that he seeks to crush opposition, and reassembling Congress does not change the dire circumstances in Venezuela.

Venezuela is a failed state.

Wait what? Please explain.
Nicholas Maduro was narrowly elected President of Venezuela in 2013. At that time, Venezuela was still largely considered an oil powerhouse, and the ruling Socialist party utilized popular oil-fueled welfare programs. Maduro was a major proponent of these programs, and even described himself as a “son” of Hugo Chavez, his socialist predecessor.

But Maduro’s presidency has resulted in four years of severe recession. This economic crisis has only been exacerbated by the fall in oil prices in 2014. Instead of addressing his failing economic system, Maduro denies the severity of the crisis and even uses the instability to consolidate more power. Now, Venezuela has the highest inflation in the world, food and medicine shortages, and surging violent crime rates.

How did I not know about this? Why is no one talking about Venezuela?
According to Forbes, we don’t pay attention to Venezuela because we think it’s “geopolitically irrelevant.” When U.S. officials talk about failed states, they’re usually referring to countries in the Middle East that are fighting terrorism. The Venezuelan crisis is viewed as an implosion—the country will collapse on itself, but the problems will stay confined to Venezuela. Well, I’m here to shatter that illusion.


The United States should care about the Venezuelan crisis.

Here’s why:

1. This is a humanitarian crisis.
For the past few years, food, medicine, and even toilet paper has been in short supply. According to Human Rights Watch, the Venezuelan government has severely downplayed the crisis. Maduro's inadequate response to the sickness and starvation and his people is a violation of human rights. Not to mention, crime and poverty are also being swept under the rug.

2. This is a threat to democracy in our hemisphere.
If this were the Cold War Era, we would be freaking out. Recently, we’ve turned our backs on our own neighbors, assuming there is stability in Latin America. But Venezuela is far from stable. When a democracy is debilitated, there is room for influence by other non-democratic foreign powers. Which leads me to my next point...

3. We should be wary of the relationship between Venezuela and Russia.
Speaking of Cold War threats, as Venezuela grows weaker, Maduro’s relationship with Putin grows stronger. When the OAS, the UN, and the U.S. condemned the disbandment of the National Assembly, Russia responded with a statement that said, "External forces should not add fuel to the fire to the conflict inside Venezuela. We are confident in the principle of non-interference in internal affairs."

Some are speculating that Friday’s Supreme Court move was designed, in part, to facilitate Russian oil investment. Without the National Assembly slamming the breaks, Maduro could create oil ventures without Congressional approval. Maduro has his eye on Rosneft, the major Russian oil company. According to Reuters, Putin and Maduro are striking up a deal—Rosneft has been offered a stake in an oil joint venture with Venezuelan state oil company. This could be Putin’s new foothold in the Western Hemisphere.
The Moscow Times

Where the United States stands

President Trump has yet to take an official stance on Venezuela. His efforts in this hemisphere have been completely misguided. While he’s focusing on building a wall and scrapping free trade with allies, a dictatorship is forming right under his nose.