Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights

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Posts tagged Nicolas Maduro

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Did Maduro Miss His Chance?

David Smilde and Dimitris Pantoulas

President Nicolas Maduro’s shake-up announced a week ago was, of course, anti-climatic. There were no major announcements of measures that might address the dramatic distortions in the Venezuelan economy. What changes were announced seemed to muddy the waters for reform.

In the hours after the announcements, analysts warned that the lack of relevant moves was negative for the economy and for international perceptions. Luis Vicente León said “Nothing was announced to tackle the causes of the crisis. So for now the crisis can only worsen.” Indeed international markets left no doubt about their view of the changes. In the following days bonds fell and country risk increased, meaning Venezuela will have to pay more for credit on the international market.

One analyst likened Maduro’s moves to a “rotation of used tires” designed to balance internal forces but not much else.

Here we look at the four most important changes made and suggest they represent an internal reordering that could lead to economic and political reforms in the medium term. Nevertheless, they probably represent a lost window of opportunity.

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Filed under Venezuelan economy Nicolas Maduro Economic reform

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Maduro Critiqued From the Left

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz

President Maduro has again been receiving intense criticism from the left wing of Chavismo, most notably in the opinion pieces at the website Aporrea. Top Chavista leadership is increasingly being questioned ahead of the upcoming Third Congress of the Socialist Party (PSUV), which will be held from July 26 to 28.

Before the opposition protest movement began in early February, Aporrea had been publishing pieces critical of Maduro’s stewardship of Chávez’s legacy. Maduro was strongly criticized for appointing militaries to important posts and for removing leftist leaders from office. Aporrea commentator Toby Valderrama even called on Maduro to publicly respond to allegations that the “internal right” had toned down Chávez’s political treatise, the “Plan de la Patria.”

However, the opposition protest movement muted internal criticism, as Chavismo closed ranks. But as the protests have decreased in the last two months the previous political dynamics have returned. Economic problems have again become central. Poll numbers released in May show that the government’s approval ratings have continued to decline with the general population. And internal tensions in Chavismo have reignited.

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IAD Q&A: Is Chavismo Coming to an End in Venezuela?

Today’s issue of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor ran a Q&A on Nicolas Maduro’s declining poll numbers and the future of Chavismo. Otto Riech, Michael Shifter and Dan Hellinger also responded. My contribution is below. You can access the newsletter here.

IAD: A Datanalisis survey published May 5 by El Universal showed growing impatience among Venezuelans for President Nicolás Maduro’s government. Sixty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Maduro’s administration, while 80 percent thought the country was going in the wrong direction. What factors are driving those poll numbers, and will Maduro continue losing support among Venezuelans? Might he be forced out of office before his term is scheduled to expire in 2019? Is Chavismo coming to an end, and what would most likely replace it?

DS: The fieldwork for this poll was done as dialogue between the government and opposition gained inertia and street protests diminished. This seems to have refocused people on the poor economy. Of the top five most important problems respondents mentioned, four were economic, accounting for 51% of the total. Food scarcities and inflation topped the list. In contrast, less than 10% mentioned in some way the government’s heavy-handed response to the protests.

Since the economy will get worse before it gets better, President Maduro’s job approval could well drop to the bedrock 25-30% of the population that solidly identifies with Chavismo. Unless his government turns the economy around over the next two years he could lose a recall referendum which will become available in 2016. An incredible 59% of respondents say they don’t think Maduro should finish his term, including 15% of government supporters.

While this spells trouble for the Maduro government, it will not mean the end of Chavismo as a political force. Most average Venezuelans remember Hugo Chávez as someone who delivered on his promise to raise their standards of living. What is more, the last time they saw him alive was in December 2012, a year that saw 5% economic growth. This reinforces their perception that the precipitous decline of the Venezuelan economy is the fault of Maduro rather than the unsustainable economic policies he inherited. And this perception will continue to contribute to Chávez’s long term symbolic glorification. 

Filed under Poll Numbers Nicolas Maduro

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At least 3 people were killed over the weekend in Venezuela as protests continue. On Saturday, supporters and opponents of President Nicolás Maduro staged rival rallies in Caracas. Maduro claims that “fascist groups” caused the violence. He’s accused them of planning a coup against the government. He’s also accused the United States of orchestrating ongoing street demonstrations since February. David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and moderator of the blog “Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights”, joins us from Caracas to discuss the ongoing social unrest.

PHOTO: (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) - Anti-government demonstrator stands with a tri-colored ribbon covering her mouth that reads “Venezuela” during a protest in front of an office of the Organization of American States, OAS, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, March 21, 2014.

Filed under SoundCloud WBEZ's Worldview Nicolas Maduro Venezuela civil unrest Caracas

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Will Venezuela’s Protests Spin out of Control? Q&A with David Smilde

In today’s Latin America Advisor, David Smilde and other experts respond to questions about the ongoing protests in Venezuela. To read the article in its original context, please click here.

Latin America Advisor: Deadly protests, the largest since President Nicolás Maduro’s election last year, have wracked Venezuela in recent weeks. The demonstrations were punctuated on Feb. 18 by the arrest of opposition leader Leopoldo López, who had been organizing the protests. Why did these protests erupt now, and why did they turn deadly this time? Does the situation pose a threat to Maduro’s government? How will López’s jailing affect the opposition?

David Smilde: Like any protest wave, the sources are multiple. The basic motor of these protests has been students, protesting against the criminalization of protest and in favor of freedom of expression. The movement was latched on to and fueled by radical elements of the opposition who were not in agreement with their coalition’s more moderate line aimed at growing the opposition coalition and negotiating with the government. Leopoldo López and others pushed forward with street protests seeking Maduro’s resignation. In a couple of the protests, larger swaths of the opposition base have hit the streets to raise their voices as well. Protests in Venezuela frequently involve violence. Protestors themselves engage in (usually non-lethal) violence. The National Guard, which works to control the protests, has inconsistent professional standards. Mix that in with pro-government but semi-autonomous armed collectives, and it is a perfect recipe for violence. I doubt it was ordered from the top, but suggestions made by Maduro and Chavista governors about the defense of the revolution can easily be interpreted by followers as a green light for violence. The government could control it by sending crystal-clear messages to its followers and making sure that security forces work protests without lethal weaponry. The protests seem to be dying down and are focusing on ‘guarimba’ tactics in which small groups of people block off streets to disrupt daily life. They likely will not end as long as the government and government supporters continue to repress them. At the present the protest movement is really leading the actions of opposition politicians rather than the other way around.

Filed under david smilde venezuela protests guarimba Leopoldo López Nicolas Maduro

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Venezuela: Opposition Protests Continue, President Maduro Supporters Come Out

From WBEZ Chicago’s WorldView: Protests continued on Monday in Caracas, with opposition members blocking off parts of Caracas and erecting barriers on major roads.  Over the weekend hundreds of thousands of people also came out in support of the government of Nicolas Maduro. We’ll examine the demands of both sides with David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America.

Filed under David Smilde Venezuela Protests Nicolas Maduro Henrique Capriles Leopoldo Lopez Student protests

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Maduro Solidifies his Leadership over Government and Chavismo

Hugo Pérez Hernáiz and David Smilde

Having successfully passed the political hurdle of the December 2013 municipal elections, Maduro has increasingly cemented his role as leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. The elections pushed to the discursive margins questions of his legitimacy and increased his political capital within his own political coalition.

Most concretely, the predicted struggle between him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello has not been played out yet. Cabello has become a major power broker in his position as President of the National Assembly and First Vice-President of the PSUV (The “eternal President” of the PSUV is Chávez), but has not contested Maduro’s leadership. However, political analyst Argelia Rios argues that during the campaign for the December elections “Diosdado Cabello emerged as a relevant party boss, so much so that it has become impossible for Maduro to ignore him.”

Perhaps the most salient change in direction during Maduro’s first nine months in office has been the increased the military presence in the government. Maduro has sought to strengthen what he calls the “civic-military” union. Given the small margin of victory at the polls in April, and ambivalent backing he has received from leftist social movements, it makes sense for Maduro to see the military as his most important pillar of support.

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Filed under Nicolas Maduro Armed Forces

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Maduro Announcements Mark a Return to Militarized Policing

David Smilde and Rebecca Hanson

The fact that President Maduro went on national television and directly addressed the tragic murders of actress Monica Spear and her husband should be welcomed, as it is all too easy for the government to ignore the issue of security in the country. Many Venezuelans do not see crime as a public policy issue and therefore do not blame the government for it. This creates incentives for leaders to avoid the issue because once they begin to address it, they risk “owning it” in people’s eyes and then could suffer political consequences if their initiatives seem to fail. Thus it is tempting for leaders to simply ignore the problem and allow people to continue blaming it on a decline in values and the family. Thus, Maduro deserves credit for confronting the issue directly.

Nevertheless, the actual content of Maduro’s announcements are consistent with his policies over the past eight months and should cause concern as they represent a new stage in the militarization of citizen security.

Perhaps the most important announcements were the replacement of Soraya El Achkar as Rector of the National Security University (UNES) with Ronald Blanco la Cruz, a retired army general and former governor of Tachira, and the replacement of civilian police official Luis Karabin as director of the National Police (PNB) with retired army general Manuel Eduardo Pérez Urdaneta.

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Filed under Citizen Security Reform monica spear Pacification Nicolas Maduro

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Nicolás Maduro After Six Months

David Smilde

On Saturday I did an interview on Aljazeera English regarding Nicolas Maduro’s first six months in office. Here I will quickly summarize my notes.

Maduro’s first six months as elected president (he was sworn in on April 19) have been rocky with no honeymoon. A contested election in April transitioned into food shortages in May, into an electricity crisis in July, into undeniable economic deterioration in the past couple of months. With inflation closing in on 50%, and a parallel exchange rate that is seven times higher than the official rate, economic distortions are becoming epic.

The baseline causes of these problems, of course, were inherited from Maduro’s predecessor and mentor, Hugo Chávez Frias. Serious shortages first appeared in early 2008. Electricity blackouts were one of the reasons that the government lost ground in the 2010 legislative elections. And foreign exchange distortions have been a mainstay over the past five or six years. In 2012 Chávez covered over this waning sustainability with $30 billion in loans from China against future oil sales.

Now Maduro is presiding over a distorted economy with limited alternatives. Venezuela’s bonds have descended into junk territory, and China does not seem willing to hand over big cash infusions as in the past. Devaluing the currency and pushing forward a structural adjustment would send the economy into recession and be political suicide.

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Filed under Nicolas Maduro Enabling law