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Venezuela and the Fate of Latin American Democracy

Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, Bolivarian Revolution, Organization of American States, Hugo Chavez

As a student of Latin American history, I vividly recall debating why the region’s governments collapsed into dictatorship time and time again. Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay…yet Venezuela was largely absent from the conversation.

Maybe it was because the country seemed to have settled on a democratic system in 1958 after the people overthrew their “final” dictatorship, and avoided the mid-century military massacres their neighbors faced.

Or maybe it was the controversy surrounding President Hugo Chavez and his Bolivarian Revolution, loved by the Left and hated by the Right. And despite his clashes with the U.S., his approval rating remained high at home, due in part to a booming economy, which made him an unlikely harbinger for military rule.

The End of Venezuelan Democracy? 

Flash forward to today, and Venezuela is a very different place. Plagued by record-high inflation, shortages of food and medical supplies, and violent protests, human rights have been suspended in favor of law and order. And although President Nicolás Maduro has slowly continued to erode democratic institutions since he took office in 2013, the once promising nation may officially revert back to authoritarian rule in 2017.  

Exhibit A:In October 2016, Maduro cancelled a presidential recall referendum and postponed regional elections indefinitely. The country had already been declared under a state of emergency since January.

Exhibit B: On March 29, 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is controlled by the executive branch, took over the National Assembly. While the ruling was reversed just days later, the separation of powers remains murky.

Mercosur Suspends Venezuela’s Membership

Venezuela, Human Rights, Mercosur, Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uraguay

Mercosur didn’t waste any time. The South American trade group warned that it would suspend Venezuela’s membership if it didn’t improve human rights and immigration conditions by December 1st. On December 2nd, Mercosur did in fact suspend Venezuela, according to the AP Press. The move came after the country failed to meet the standards it agreed to comply with upon joining in 2012.

However, despite the unanimous decision from Mercosur’s four founding members—Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay—the Venezuela government plans to fight back. President Nicolas Maduro has already threatened to take the matter to international authorities, stating that the decision was “a coup d’état." Yet the country is unlikely to receive much sympathy in a world that is quickly veering toward the right.

When Venezuela joined Mercosur, South America was dominated by left-wing governments. But much has changed since 2012—Argentina and Brazil elected centrist leaders, and the country’s regional influence has declined since it began cutting back on oil shipments. And without the support of its neighbors, Venezuela is vulnerable to further punitive action from other nations. The Organization of American States has already debated suspending the country from the hemispheric body due to its growing authoritarianism, and some U.S. Congress members have suggested imposing economic sanctions.

Venezuela crashes the party

Mercosur to Suspend Venezuela over Human Rights Record?

Venezuela, South America, Mercosur, Human Rights, European Union

Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami famously wrote, “Hell has no true bottom.” And Venezuela may be proof. As the country continues its downward economic spiral, it now faces pressure from Mercosur to meet the organization’s human rights and immigration standards. The South American trade bloc warned that Venezuela’s membership will be suspended if it fails to meet the December 1st deadline to improve conditions, Bloomberg reported. (Upon joining in 2012, the country agreed to the four-year timeline to meet all the requirements.)

In June, Caracas was set to assume the bloc’s rotating presidency, but leading members Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, and Uruguay filled the role using an interim team from other states in order to “preserve and strengthen Mercosur,” the ministers said. It was an early warning sign that Venezuela was on shaky ground with its trading partners.

The decline in global commodity prices has led Mercosur to seek out new ties with other trade blocs—including the European Union, which evaluates the human rights records of potential partners. Given Venezuela’s increasing political turmoil, the oil-rich nation is quickly becoming a liability. 

“The European Union has condemned Venezuela for human rights violations. So (Venezuelan President Nicolas) Maduro isn’t exactly the best face for Mercosur to have right now,” Roberto Moritan, a former deputy foreign minister in Argentina, told The Wallstreet Journal.

A New Role Model and a Promising Outlook

Photo credit: The London Evening Post

As of 10 a.m. yesterday, I have a new idol: María Corina Machado, member of the Venezuelan parliament. I attended her presentation on the current political situation in Venezuela, held at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I was struck by the bravery and composure that she showed in the face of an increasingly repressive regime. María Corina is an opponent of Venezuela's President Maduro, who narrowly won the April 14th elections by a margin of 1.5 percent in the wake of President Chavez's death.

At the talk, I learned that María Corina was one of the victims of the April 30th assault at the Venezuelan parliament against opposition members. This assault left Corina badly hurt and in need of surgery.

Despite this assault and other threats made by Maduro and his supporters, María Corina is still fighting for democracy in her beloved Venezuela. In fact, Corina is here in D.C. on a diplomatic mission to appeal to the United States Congress. She would like to see Congress stand up for institutions and democracy and not ignore the tense political situation in Venezuela.

María Corina's experience drew my attention to two issues. First is the persistent need to end violence against women. I cannot imagine how violated I would feel if I were assaulted for standing up for what I believe in-either as a woman or as a human being. For me, any regime that promotes violence against women loses all sense of legitimacy.