What do Venezuelans think of their president?

Background current

Venezuela has been in a deep crisis for years. Now the political situation has come to a head and could result in the overthrow of Chavista President Nicolás Maduro. For his part, he warns of a civil war.

Caracas, Venezuela, January 23, 2019: An anti-Maduro protester has covered her face with a Venezuelan flag, toothpaste around the eye area is said to help against tear gas (& copy picture-alliance / AP)

On January 15, the Venezuelan parliament, which is dominated by the opposition, declared the re-election of President Nicolás Maduro in 2018 to be unlawful. In accordance with the constitution, he made himself interim president. He received support from the neighboring countries Brazil and Colombia as well as from the EU and the USA.

Several EU states, including Germany, called on incumbent President Maduro to announce an early presidential election by February 3, 2019 at the latest. Should this not happen, Guaidó would be recognized as interim president. Maduro let the ultimatum pass. On February 4, France, Great Britain, Austria and Germany, among others, declared that they would consider Guaidó as the rightful interim president.

However, Maduro is receiving support from the International Community of Southern Africa (SADC), which spoke out in favor of the current president on February 11th. Russia has also supported Maduro since the beginning of the conflict.

On February 7, an EU contact group met with representatives from Latin American countries in Montevideo. Uruguay and Mexico presented a four-stage plan for resolving the conflict. A binding agreement is to be reached between the conflicting parties through dialogue and negotiations. However, Europe is not united in relation to Venezuela. Italy has so far refused to recognize Guiadó as transitional president. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) set out on a trip to South America on February 10th; on the sidelines of a visit to Colombia, he spoke out in favor of free elections in Venezuela.

US President Trump is keeping the option of military intervention open

US President Donald Trump kept the option of military action open in an interview with the broadcaster CBS in early February. The relationship between the USA and Venezuela has been strained for years. The socialist ruled country saw itself under Hugo Chávez as an alternative to the capitalist USA.

Trump recognized Guadió as interim president at the end of January 2019. Trump also had sanctions imposed on the Venezuelan oil company PDVSA.

In the Venezuelan capital Caracas, tens of thousands of people have demonstrated against Maduro since the end of January. But the followers of the Chavist politician also take to the streets. For his part, Maduro warned of the danger of civil war. He can currently still rely on the loyalty of the armed forces. The blockade of the border crossings to Colombia by the military caused a stir. As a result, a U.S. aid convoy with a total of 100 tons of humanitarian goods could not pass. Maduro called the aid convoy a "show". Meanwhile, on February 12, Guaidó called on his supporters to protest again.

The current political developments have their origins in a supply crisis that has persisted for several years as well as in political conflicts that have worsened since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013.

Mass protests since 2014

There had already been mass protests in Venezuela at the beginning of 2014. At that time, it was mainly students who demonstrated against the policies of the new President Nicolás Maduro. The reasons were rising prices, the pension crisis and the high crime rate in the South American country. But the demonstrators did not succeed in winning the majority of the population over to their cause.

In the general election in December 2015, the opposition won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. From then on, it made up almost two thirds of the MPs. As a result, there was a national crisis because President Maduro tried to rule by means of decrees bypassing parliament.

"Putsch from Above" in 2017

On March 29, 2017, the Supreme Court, in which judges mainly appointed by Maduro sit, dissolved the National Assembly and lifted the immunity of the MPs. According to the ruling, the Supreme Court itself should take over the legislative competence in the future. This would have effectively dissolved the separation of powers in Venezuela. The verdict was sharply criticized internationally. Maduro took the chance to present himself as the "savior of the constitution": He called on the judges to "reconsider" their verdict.

A short time later, the court overturned its decision. But the attempted coup triggered a series of mass demonstrations that determined the domestic political conflict in Venezuela throughout 2017. On May 1, 2017, Maduro called a constituent assembly that is supposed to stand above all state organs and has the de facto right to change the entire political architecture of the country. The election took place on July 30th, Maduro himself set the criteria according to which candidates were admitted to the election. Former Chavists now also sided with the opposition.

Supply crisis, inflation and emigration

Since 2015, the supply crisis and the ailing situation of public finances have increasingly moved into the focus of the debate. Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, but the output of the state oil company PDVSA has been declining for years.

The decline in oil production also has consequences for public finances, as Venezuela's economy is 90 percent dependent on oil exports. Venezuela has been on the verge of national bankruptcy since 2017 at the latest. Rapidly advancing inflation also devalued the financial assets of the population: In August 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund, the inflation rate was one million percent.

According to the UN refugee agency, three million Venezuelans have left their country since the beginning of the crisis. More than a million refugees live in neighboring Colombia alone.

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