University of California, Los Angeles

Democratic Erosion in Venezuela

Venezuela, a country rich in resources is tethering on collapse. Social and political institutions have disintegrated, taking with it the economy. A number of reasons can help explain the situation in the country. However, the issue of democratic erosion stands out as the sole reason as to why Venezuela is turning into a failed state. Venezuela, like in other Latin American countries populist leaders like Hugo Chávez, in the case of Venezuela got into the presidency with a popular vote backing. Through using their popularity, these leaders ended up destroying the country’s social, political and economic systems. This was achieved through years of destruction of the institutions, checks and balances, free and fair elections, civil liberties and rights (Corrales & Penfold-Becerra, 2011).

A number of factors contribute to higher chances of leaders destroying democratic institutions, all in the name of extending their stay at the helm. These factors include among others weakened institutions such as courts and other bodies, slowing economic development, as well as generally weakened states. However, these factors are not a demonstration of certainty in which such leaders succeed in democratic erosion. This is because democratic erosion takes time, as an authoritarian regime pursues it, the opposition in most cases is able to notice and respond to it. Furthermore, an authoritarian regime in managing to prolong its stay in office through changing laws, and increasing its administrative powers, is not due to such regimes being in bed with the military, or having a strong vocal and civilian support behind it. This may be as a result of how the opposition responds to initial attempts made by the regime to go against the democratic path by undermining the institutions, and other key checks and balances (De la Torre & Ortiz Lemos, 2016)

This can be observed in what precipitated the erosion of democracy in Venezuela. Hugo Chávez, through popular support got elected and started the mutilation of the various institutions within the country.  This afforded him the power to alter laws, stifle the checks and balances, key to the survival of a democracy, so as to prolong his stay in power. Upon his death, the new president Nicolás Maduro like Chávez continued the onslaught towards democracy crippling it further. The failure of the opposition to use institutions in the first place to fight, Chávez may have resulted to what is now seen in Venezuela. Had the opposition used elections, congress and courts in their fight against authoritarian rule by Chuff’s. Maybe Venezuela could have been a different story.

However, by resorting to use of strikes, demonstrations, and other means outside of the constitution and the democratic institutions in place. The opposition failed to maintain influential presence, within the legislative institutions giving Chávez more leeway.  Through the legislature and other key institutions, the opposition were in a better position to oppose the government for a while. Contrary to using legal institutions, the opposition resorted to demonstration, secession talks, and strikes. This gave the government reason to prosecute its leaders. Besides, it allowed for the government to gain more support in its push for stricter laws and political reforms, limiting the ability of the opposition to counter such power moves (Hawkins, 2016).

Economies with weak institutions and high mineral wealth are likely to undergo democratic erosion. Venezuela, for instance had a lot of oil wealth through which the government used to become repressive (Pérez-Liñán & Altman, 2017). The wealth allowed Chávez to reduce social pressure on himself, by pursuing populist and social agendas that saw him increase his influence. Through patronage, strengthening the repression by the state, buying up loyalty Chávez was able to increase his profile within Venezuela and Latin America at large (Hunter 2010).

The peak of erosion of democracy in Venezuela, came about after the death of Hugo Chávez, during the presidency of Nicolás Maduro. The issues plaguing the country, started by taking an economic form, where low oil prices came to affect the country’s economy that was solely dependent on oil as the main source of revenue. This resulted in increased civil unrest from opposition supporters, who were joined by non-opposition supporters as well. The economic toll on the country affected people from all walks of life. Lack of commodities, reduced economic activities, meant that all within and outside the opposition was affected. To counter the protest, the government did what can be considered an open assault on democracy. One, the country’s Supreme Court took hold of the functions of the legislature. This was prompted by the feeling that the national assembly was under the manipulation of the government. The move by the supreme court was considered key to facilitating regime change against President’s Maduro’s government. The government in the other hand cancelled a referendum that was meant to oust the president, this was postponed indefinitely (Buxton, 2017).

Presently in Venezuela, citizens have become distrustful of the political leaders, institutions and parties. Citizens, are openly protesting and questioning the authoritarian regime that is in place. Economic factors and failures that have been evident within the country, may explain such increased protest and need for regime change. However, at its core the change is driven by eroded democracy, a process that started in the year 2000s to the present. Subsequent leaders have overseen, a systematic erosion of democratic institutions, space and civil liberties. With the increased protests, galvanized opposition and the public, regime change in Venezuela may come sooner than expected, all due to the failure of the present regime to uphold the tenets of democracy within the country (Houskeeper, Stocker  & Mandel, 2017).





Buxton, J. (2017). Situation Normal in Venezuela: All Fouled Up: Amid an historic crisis, Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro hangs on with the help of a stalwart ally: the country’s long dysfunctional opposition. NACLA Report on the Americas49(1), 3-6.

Corrales, Javier, and Michael Penfold-Becerra. 2011. Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela. Washington, D.C: Brookings Institution Press.

De la Torre, C., & Ortiz Lemos, A. (2016). Populist polarization and the slow death of democracy in Ecuador. Democratization23(2), 221-241.

Hawkins, K. A. (2016). Responding to radical populism: Chavismo in Venezuela. Democratization23(2), 242-262.

Houskeeper, S., Stocker, A., & Mandel, B. (2017). Ongoing violence in Venezuela highlights a divided country. Politica Northwestern, 1(1), 5.

Pérez-Liñán, A., & Altman, D. (2017). Explaining the Erosion of Democracy: Can Economic Growth Hinder Democracy?.

Weyland, K., Madrid, R. L., & Hunter, W. (Eds.). (2010). Leftist governments in Latin America: successes and shortcomings. Cambridge University Press.

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