Last week, Venezuela’s government was thrown into uncertainty as Juan Guaidó, leader of a political opposition movement, claimed the title of president over incumbent leader, Nicolas Maduro. This challenge to Maduro’s power was met with support from Venezuelans who have experienced food shortages and hyperinflation in recent years. Guaidó, who has led the opposition for only a few weeks after being politically involved with the centrist Popular Will party, also received the support of the United States government via an address from Vice President Mike Pence on the morning of January 23.
Guaidó and the opposition movement to the standing Venezuelan government are not recent developments. Since the election of socialist leader Hugo Chávez in 1999, the nation has experienced shortages of goods. Because of a reliance on foreign imports of food, financed by the then-booming oil industry, Venezuela’s domestic food production dropped off as inflation skyrocketed. With Chávez’s passing in 2013, his second-in-command, Maduro, was elected president in an extremely close popular vote. Since then, Maduro has continued Chávez’s policies, even as the oil trade fell— digging the country further into shortages. Additionally, Venezuelan military have manipulated the import contracts for personal profit, causing shortages and pocketing millions at the expense of the government. As a result, 50-80 percent of food products in the country are experiencing shortages, according to one 2016 study, and the Venezuelan currency is worth less than one-ten-thousandth of what it was five years ago. The threat of famine has forced many Venezuelans to leave their homes in search of food in other countries or led them to eat garbage to avoid starvation. Maduro’s government has attributed the mass shortages to smuggling and intervention by the United States.
The future of Venezuela’s government hangs in the balance.
While Maduro was freely elected after Chávez’s death, public opinion has turned against the president and his administration as the shortages have continued, leading to mass protests, starting in 2014. More than 200 people have been killed and tens of thousands injured in the protests as Maduro has attempted to quell political resistance through mass censorship and militant groups called “colectivos.” This resistance came to a head after Maduro’s re-election in 2018. After a decisive victory for the incumbent president, the election came under accusations of being rigged by Maduro’s administration — the results not reflecting the increasing resistance to Maduro and his party. Protests sparked by the election’s alleged fraudulence have carried the opposition to new heights and created room for Guaidó to stake his claim as Venezuela’s president. Guaidó has been involved with the opposition since helping to found the Popular Will party in 2009. Mentored under opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, Guaidó has ridden to the top on a platform centered around eliminating widespread poverty and guaranteeing rights for all Venezuelans. Despite being a relatively unknown figure until recently, Guaidó has gained support from Venezuelans disenchanted with the Maduro administration, as well as the U.S. government. Maduro, in turn, has claimed that the opposition movement is a coup d’etat created by U.S. capitalists to destabilize Venezuela. This accusation, while denied by both the American government and the Venezuelan opposition, is not unprecedented; the United States has participated in overthrowing several democratically elected left-wing Latin American leaders since the mid-20th century. After the U.S. officially recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s leader on January 23, Maduro ordered that all U.S. diplomats in Venezuela leave the country within 72 hours. “We cannot accept the invasive policies of the empire, the United States, the policies of Donald Trump,” Maduro stated in a public address.
Critics have said that Washington’s stance against Maduro has done nothing to ease international tensions. Both Russia and China stand with the Maduro administration and have warned the U.S. against further intervention, even as Guaidó’s opposition requests arms and funding from the U.S. government. With the ongoing investigation regarding the events surrounding President Trump’s election and America’s history of arming resistances in South American countries, critics are wary of U.S. intervention. A recent poll conducted by Datanalisis showed that only 35 percent of Venezuelans support foreign military intervention. The future of Venezuela’s government hangs in the balance.
Brendan Lordan is a second-year student majoring in English writing. BL895080@wcupa.edu