Before proceeding, we recommend reading The Pub’s first feature article on the Venezuelan political crisis for context before reading this piece.
February 23rd marks a month since, in an Open Chamber, Juan Guaidó invoked Article 233 of the Constitution of Venezuela. In the case of a power vacuum, the article calls for the President of the National Assembly to serve as interim President of the Republic until free and fair elections are held within the following 30 days.
As the 30-day limit to call for elections approaches, the opposition leader, who recognizes that free elections need to be held as soon as possible, has stated that elections will be invoked once Maduro’s usurpation of power ceases, a transitional government is formed, and the necessary mechanisms for holding true free and fair elections are established. In the words of journalist Eugenio G. Martinez, the National Electoral Council has to be renewed to allow alternation in power.
Plan Pais (“National Plan”)—a roadmap to democracy
On January 31st, Guaidó introduced a strategic and structured plan to get Venezuela out of the crisis. The National Plan was prepared by economic experts, professional guilds, elected members of the National Assembly, members of opposition parties, and Chavist dissidents, all of whom are committed to recovering the State, putting the State at the service of citizens, empowering citizens, and reinserting Venezuela into the concert of free and prosperous nations.
The plan starts by describing Venezuela as a “failed state” due to the following governmental failures:
Year-on-year inflation until October 2018 is 833,997%
Cumulative GDP contraction is 48.3% in the period frp, 2013 to 2018
Venezuela’s external debt equals more than five years’ worth of its exports
Oil production has fallen 54% since 1998
The impoverishment rate has accelerated from 48.4% in 2014 to 91.3% in 2017
In 2017, 6 out of 10 Venezuelans had lost weight from malnourishment (11 kilos on average) that year due to malnutrition, and it is estimated that 1.3 million of people suffer from malnourishment today
As of June 2018, 820 people had died due to a lack of antimalarial drugs
The integral minimum wage went from covering 60,000 calories in 2012 to only 600 in 2018
6.5 minimum integral wages are required to cover the food basket and 12 minimum wages to cover the cost of the basic family basket
In 2017 alone there were 26,616 violent deaths in the country. The homicides rate exceeds 89 per 100 thousand inhabitants.
The crisis has caused the largest diaspora recorded in the history of Latin America
The plan further proposes both short-term and long-term strategies to address these failures. Among the most urgent measures—after Maduro’s usurpation ceases—are recovering the oil industry, stabilizing the economy, and addressing the complex humanitarian crisis.
Humanitarian aid creates a dilemma for the Venezuelan military
To address the humanitarian crisis, the supply of and access to necessary goods and services is fundamental. Humanitarian assistance and international financing can provide these necessities.
There is humanitarian aid ready to enter Venezuela from Colombia, Brazil, and Curacao on February 23rd. However, the Maduro regime has opposed its entry in fear of an accompanying invasion to overthrow Maduro. On February 6th, Maduro blocked the entry of much-needed aid by blocking the Tienditas International bridge that connects Venezuela to Colombia with an orange oil tanker and two large blue containers. On February 21st, Maduro announced that he was closing of the border with Brazil until further notice, suspending communications with Aruba, Curacao, and Bonaire, and evaluating the closing of borders with Colombia.
Guaidó has a combination of international backing (he has been internationally recognized as the country’s rightful interim ruler by more than 50 countries), unity among the opposition, and reinvigorated grassroot support. However, he recognizes that both a transition of power and the entry of humanitarian aid will require the support of key military contingents. Hence, he has offered amnesty and constitutional guarantees to members of the military who are “prepared to put themselves on the side of the constitution in order to recover the democratic order.”
Maduro has made statements about where he stands regarding the entrance of aid. This has been made clear both by the actions taken on February 2nd and his announcement claiming that his people are not “beggars.” Nevertheless, it is the Venezuelan military who have the final say. Thus, as February 23rd approaches, the Venezuelan military face the dilemma: should they let in the much-needed humanitarian aid, or should they block it? On one hand, if aid is blocked, it would likely lead to public unrest and international backlash to a regime who is preventing its starving people from getting aid that is desperately needed. On the other hand, if the military lets aid enter the country, it would undermine and question Maduro’s leadership. Either way, the worst-case scenario is the escalation of conflict, especially due to the presence of regime-supported armed groups in the Venezuelan territory (“colectivos”) as well as in the Colombian territory (guerrilla groups) who might be encouraged to use force to reject aid. Likewise, a confrontation between the West (US) and the East (Russia) could play out.
Dialogue with Maduro is not likely to occur. In the previous years, dialogue has led to repression rather than cooperation. In short, the role of the Venezuelan military, especially this coming February 23rd, will be key in combating the uncertainty that endures in Venezuela. While Guaidó insists that Venezuela can find a peaceful way forward, without forcing military intervention and without the civil war that many fear, the role of the international community will be vital in helping Venezuelans restore their democracy through legitimate and constitutional means.
The future of Venezuela remains uncertain as both Maduro and Guaidó continue to exercise executive functions in a power struggle game that revolves around an issue of legitimacy. The Venezuelan crisis is complex, and Venezuelans have a long road ahead in restoring their country. However, here stands an opportunity to restore Venezuela’s democracy. Change can be achieved through peaceful and non-violent means, prioritizing the provision of humanitarian aid, avoiding the escalation of conflict and military intervention and, most importantly, allowing Venezuelans to determine their own fate. And while the international community should do everything in their hands to help Venezuela restore its democracy, change needs to come from within.
Alessia Rodríguez is a Master of Public Policy and Global Affairs student at the University of British Colombia. Born and raised in Venezuela, Alessia first completed a BA (Hons) in International Relations, Political Science, and Sociology at the University of Toronto. She hopes to contribute to the social and economic development of Venezuela and Latin America at large. Her passion for development stems from her philosophy that the best policies should seek to empower and integrate developing countries and their particularities as against exclusion and further dependency.