University of California, Los Angeles

Is Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro a Dictator? by Michael Townsend at University of California, Los Angeles

Nicolas Maduro, who is the President for Venezuela, has been in office since 2013 and took over after Hugo Chavez. Because Maduro continued Chavez’s policies, Venezuela’s economy declined with crime, inflation, poverty and hunger increasing which made him lose popularity. He still maintains power with his electoral authority and use of military. Much like Hugo Chavez, Maduro has been accused of being a dictator because of his authoritarian like government. Venezuela has been in its worst recession due to its plunge in global oil prices and failed state-led economic policies.

What is also interesting about Maduro is that he used to be a bus driver and also worked as a bodyguard until he earned a place in Chavez’s inner circle because he helped him get released from jail because of anti-government activities. This lead to him being appointed as foreign minister and vice president. And according to Eric Olsen, who is the deputy director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center, “People were surprised when Chávez handpicked him as his successor because there were more powerful politicians.”

Earlier this year, Louis Ortega, who was fired from Maduro’s government, filed a complaint and contacted the International Crime Court to charge Nicolas Maduro for crimes against humanity. According to Ortega, Maduro is responsible for the deaths of 8,290 people during the span of 2015-2017. Ortega stated that, “We have been forced to turn to an international organization because there is no justice in Venezuela.” She has also said that, “Nicolas Maduro and his government should pay for these crimes against humanity just as they must also pay for the hunger, misery, and hardship they’ve inflicted on the Venezuelan people.”

Maduro created a Constituent Assembly that made it possible to “override the traditional National Assembly” Her complaint included evidence from Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino and intelligence chief Gustavo Gonzalez for being involved as well.

The U.N. High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein even said, “It must be barely alive, if still alive, is the way I would look at it.” “I think we would argue that over the course of time we have seen a erosion of democratic life in Venezuela.”

Although it may seem like it is still a democracy on the outside looking in because it will have an new election this year, according to Sioban Morden, “they will surely be rigged” in the favor of the Socialist United Party. With basically no opposition, this takes advantage of the venezuelan people. Another factor is that most of the wealthier people have fled the country because of the big economy crisis that is happening due to the massive amount of inflation, which leaves the majority of the population middle or lower class.

Since there are millions of people who are suffering from this economic crisis, they are more dependent on the state. Nicolas Maduro started a using a strategy by keeping the vote of those people by having a monthly food supply box given to them called CLAP boxes. One woman said, “I and other women I know are going to vote for Maduro because he’s promising to keep giving CLAPs, which at least help fix some problems.” Many of the people in Venezuela rely on this box because they are only making minimum wage and may suffer from malnutrition.

What is also interesting about Maduro is that he used to be a bus driver and also worked as a bodyguard until he earned a place in Chavez’s inner circle because he helped him get released from jail because of anti-government activities. This lead to him being appointed as foreign minister and vice president. And according to Eric Olsen, who is the deputy director of the Latin American Program at the Wilson Center, “People were surprised when Chávez handpicked him as his successor because there were more powerful politicians.” What makes him more controversial is the fact that he lacks charisma and political wisdom is deficient.

Maduro has taken backlash from the US and the EU along with neighboring countries for his political tactics and the many violations of human rights. President Trump is aware of what is happening and stated, “We have many options for Venezuela. And by the way, I am not going to rule out a military option,” he said. “Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering, and they are dying.” But the Maduro and his son did not take too kindly what Trump said and they responded by saying, “If the unlikely event of defiling the homeland came to pass, the rifles would arrive in New York,” he said. “Mr. Trump, we would arrive and take the White House.”

The government of Valenzuela and the support of Maduro is still standing because of his military and now the question is how do we stop them without going to war?

Works Cited

Aponte, Andreina. “For Poor Venezuelans, a Box of Food May Sway Vote for Maduro.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 12 Mar. 2018,

“Democracy ‘Barely Alive’ in Venezuela, U.N. Rights Chief Says.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 30 Aug. 2017,

“Nicolas Maduro Accused of Crimes against Humanity.” EurAsian Times, 22 Nov. 2017,

Rapoza, Kenneth. “In Venezuela, Early Elections, ‘Rigged’ Elections.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 28 Jan. 2018,

Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins | Reuters, Creative Commons Zero license.



    March 14, 2018 at 6:35 pm

    That is a reasonable question – how will Maduro be stopped without causing war. I find it interesting that the country still supports him (even though his popularity has gone down – there have been no successful attempts to get him out of power), but then after reading about the CLAP boxes they receive, it would make sense. Maduro is also bribing his constituents into voting for him and not overthrowing the government. Also, since you stated that the majority of the wealthy people have already fled the country, the remaining people would probably not have the money or the resources to stop this autocratic rule. Maduro has control of the election results, the military and everything else he wants since he is running the country like a dictatorship. Him rigging the elections reduces one of the last democratic aspects of Venezuela. Even if he didn’t rig it, he has scare and bribery tactics in place, so one could argue that the people would want to vote for him anyways. This must be stopped, but again – how? – because one certainly does not want to invoke another war because then Maduro would be responsible for hundreds or thousands more lives on top of the 8,290 he is already responsible for.


    March 14, 2018 at 9:17 pm

    Clearly, the issue at hand here is the fact that the people of Venezuela are being taken advantage of and they have no way fend for themselves. This arises from two main reasons: one is that since people will vote for the candidate that gives them food, it creates a political atmosphere where people are not sure whether others genuinely support Maduro or whether they are supporting him for the sake of survival. This polarization is deadly, as Venezuelans can’t turn to each other to rise up against such an oppressive regime. The other reason is that since Venezuela is a military state, on top of having a polarized population, it is impossible for a coup to occur. Maybe the solution is overseas, but I personally don’t see the situation getting better anytime soon.


    March 14, 2018 at 10:46 pm

    Looking at you characterization of Venezuela under Maduro, I wanted to combine your observations with those of Kim Lane Scheppele’s piece “Not Your Father’s Authoritarianism: The Creation of the ‘Frankenstate.'” While Scheppele doesn’t mention Venezuela and you don’t mention her article, your description of Venezuela as containing “surely rigged” elections and little opposition seems to be exactly on the same page. It appear that the way Scheppele characterizes Frankenstates (“an abusive form of rule, created by combining the bits and pieces of perfectly reasonable democratic institutions in monstrous ways”) fits Venezuela perfectly. I think this backs up your claim that his government is “authoritarian-like”: it’s impossible to place Maduro as definitively a dictator or definitively not a dictator. I think this further complicates the question you pose at the end of your article (how do we stop him without going to war?), since while the notion of the Democratic Peace might apply to that question, it is a bit confusing how well the theory of the Democratic Peace truly reflects the world when it is impossible to categorize a government as definitively Democratic or non-Democratic.


    March 15, 2018 at 4:48 am

    I find this article very interesting because the people of the country are very dependent upon the government for food. This causes people to vote for the candidate that is promising them food, but not necessarily the candidate with a better political agenda . The more immediate need of food may cause someone to vote for someone they normally wouldn’t. It is also interesting that Venezuela initially appear to be a democracy, however you can see otherwise upon closer inspection. It will be fascinating to see how this is solved, and if it will involve war.


    March 15, 2018 at 2:29 pm

    It is quite interesting how Venezuela claims to be a Democracy, when Maduro has so much power while being responsible for so many deaths like a dictator. It seems that Venezuela does not have a democracy at all.


    March 15, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    This post was very interesting to read because it showed the struggles that the Venezuelan people have been dealing with under Nicolas Maduro. What shocked me was the fact that Venezuela is under a democracy, but the term democracy is very loosely defined in the country due to the election most likely being “rigged”. This shows that the democracy is dying down immensely and possibly turning into a dictatorhip. The people of Venezuela are dependent on the government for things such as food because of the economic crisis that they will do anything necessary to get what they need.


    March 15, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    It truly is heartbreaking that the people of Venezuela are struggling so deeply and there seems to be no smart way to handle this. The term Democracy has been tugged and pulled at in every direction, and Venezuela is a perfect example of a Democracy that no longer has the moral and strength that democracy is supposed to bring to the people! I wrote about Russian and its “Managed” Democracy under Putin, and as I read your post I can see many similarities in the two leaders. This corrupt and forceful way of ruling defies the virtues of Democracy, essentially making us question where do we cross the line and make it stop? I like how you referenced to the threats that occured between President Donald Trump and Nicolas Maduro, it gave us a real life example of how serious the issue is today. It seems to be so common for democracy to transition into a dictatorship, which blockades the citizens from thinking for themselves as they suffer through this difficult time. Threatening them with food is a cruel tactic for Maduro to use, but due to the poor living conditions, it seems to be extremely effective. At the end of the day, individuals care more about their health and survival than who their president is. Desperate times calls for desperate measures.


    March 15, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    “Although it may seem like it is still a democracy on the outside looking in because it will have an new election this year, according to Sioban Morden, “they will surely be rigged” in the favor of the Socialist United Party. With basically no opposition, this takes advantage of the Venezuelan people” This quote was very significant to me in context of the elections. When defining a democracy, the existence of elections is necessary. However, elections alone do not make a government a democracy. These elections must be free and fair do make it a democratic election. The fact that the Venezuelan election are rigged highlights the erosion of democratic institutions and the government’s desire to hide that from the people and the international community. The second thing that stood out to me in this quote was referencing the opposition. In an election with little to no opposition, democracy is eroding. It does not give the people opportunity to hold the executive power accountable for its actions. In situations where the executive cannot be held accountable, democratic institutions/ values/ etc will begin to erode.
    It is a shame that Maduro is facilitating a situation where he cannot be held accountable because he is hurting Venezuela on multiple levels. He hurts the people directly and he is risking the reputation of Venezuela in terms of the international community. Damaging this relationship can be problematic when it comes to foreign investment and if Venezuela ever needed foreign aid. Thank you for sharing this post.


    March 15, 2018 at 4:08 pm

    Maduro’s stint as president of Venezuela has caused increasing damage to the economy and society as a whole. He has committed acts of violence against citizens, imprisoned politicians, and taken over all legislative power. The democracy of Venezuela has fallen, and has now begun to resemble dictatorships of the past. President Maduro is willing to do whatever it takes to remain in power. Future elections will be less democratic due to the weakening of opposing parties by Maduro. Political activists have been persecuted, and some of them even killed. The economic downfall of Venezuela has caused the country to become a state of unrest. Many citizens cannot afford food and are not protected by the government.


    March 15, 2018 at 7:29 pm

    This is a very interesting read on Maduro. I too analyzed Venezuela and their backwards step from democracy but I did not know the personal backgrounds of Maduro. What is interesting is that, as you pointed out, are still people in Venezuela who still support him regardless of all of the hardships they are going through due to his dictatorship and autocratic government. This goes to show the desperation of the people when in times of extreme economic and political crisis, the populist leader somehow still has traction because of the distrust of the government and the overall system. However, in terms of the U.S. reaction to the Venezuelan crisis do you believe it could have been handled better from President Trump? He’s been known to put his foot in his mouth but it is interesting to see the discourse from two different populist leaders. I believe the U.S. has a lot of resources to help the crisis but stubbornness from both leaders will eventually get them nowhere.


    March 15, 2018 at 7:40 pm

    This is a very interesting read and look into what actions Maduro has taken within Venezuela to ensure that his United Socialist Party of Venezuela can continue its rule. While it is correct that Maduro created a Constituent Assembly as a way to bypass some opposition groups, it is also important to take into consideration why exactly Maduro has taken these actions. The Constituent Assembly is essentially a move to avoid holding government elections that would have otherwise removed Maduro’s United Socialist Party from office. While the concerns that such an election would be rigged in favor of Maduro’s party is valid, this move by Maduro likely takes into account that his government’s approval rating has been hovering around 20 percent for quite some time due to the recent oil crisis and the current food shortages. Also, it may not need repeating that Maduro was previously a bus driver before being a part of Chavez’ inner circle. As of the time in which I am leaving this comment, that paragraph is repeated later on in the post.


    March 15, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    such good points, good example of bringing trumps comments into this. the democratic erosion is clear, but what is there to do to stop it or try and help fix it?

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