University of California, Los Angeles

Venezuela’s Transition to Dictatorship by Sam Glick @ UCLA

Venezuela’s Plunging Democracy

Over the span of twenty years, democracy in Latin America has eroded. Venezuela’s longstanding democracy is on the brink of destruction after Nicolás Maduro took over following the death of former president Hugo Chávez in 2013. In recent years, power grabs by the Maduro regime have led to many problems across the country. The growing number of citizens assembling against the government has caused him to take action. Venezuela moves further and further from a democracy with Maduro’s every move. It can now be argued that the once democratic state is now run by an outright dictatorship. 

In 2017, Maduro supporters in the supreme court seized power from the National Assembly, diminishing the strength of the opposing party. In removing the National Assembly, many believe there is no longer anything that can counter President Maduro’s growing power. All the powers of the legislative body are now in the hands of government loyalists making up the supreme court. After the 2017 ruling, National Assembly President Julio Borges stated; “Nicolás Maduro has all the power to enact laws, assign contracts, incur foreign debt and persecute fellow Venezuelans.” Politicians from opposing parties are being persecuted and held as political prisoners. Maduro’s party has arrested a city councilman and deputy lawmaker in the national assembly.

The once rich economy of Venezuela has plummeted, and President Maduro has lost control of public welfare and his military. With the economy in shambles, Maduro printed more money, leading to unending inflation and devaluation of the country’s currency. Hunger, crime, and poverty have swept Venezuela, causing many of its citizens to rebel. Unable to maintain the strong relationship with the military his predecessor once had, black markets have emerged. The military has now gotten involved in the drug and food trade, along with the constant blood bath in the streets. 

Opposing parties have been eliminated, and citizens have now begun to protest in the streets. The Democratic Unity Roundtable, also known as MUD, has called for citizens to protest peacefully. The continued persecution of citizens and politicians of the opposing party has led to violence in the streets. In September of 2017, Maduro was blamed for the death of an activist being held. Carlos Garcia, a local legislator, was framed by the government and denied medical help following a stroke following his arrest in 2016. Maduro is also responsible for the constant violence between his military and political activists. After deploying military units to handle the protests, many officers have turned to criminality themselves.

Early in his regime, Maduro used his military has a source of strength and power. He has now recognized that his military could potentially turn against him. With the fear of losing this vital power, Maduro has now begun to purge high-ranking military officers who could turn against him in the near future. In the past month, 24 soldiers have been demoted or dismissed. This is the first time that Maduro has decided to go against his military officers. Ahead of National Assembly elections in December 2015, Maduro made remarks on what would happen if the opposition gained a majority; “We would not give up the revolution and … we would govern with the people in a civil-military union.” President Maduro constantly refuses the idea of an opposition victory, a trend of many dictators from the past.

The Transition to Dictatorship

In the upcoming election, President Maduro welcomes the challenge of being elected for another six-year term. From the outside looking in, the elections might seem like a step in the right direction towards democracy. But due to Maduro’s persecution of opposing parties, many of his challengers are in political exile or jail. President Maduro stated the presidential poll will take place “with or without the opposition.” Maduro and his allies want to maintain their position of power at all costs, doing whatever it takes to repress the opposition. Due to his unpopularity across the country, President Maduro is willing to do whatever it takes to remain in command.

Venezuelan elections of the past follow many conditions of a democracy:

  1. The chief executive is elected.
  2. The legislature is elected.
  3. There is more than one party competing in elections.

A country is classified as a dictatorship if any of these conditions do not hold.

In the case of Venezuela, President Maduro has made it very difficult for any of these three to happen. He was appointed president following the death of former leader Hugo Chávez. As stated earlier, all powers of the legislative body are now held by government loyalists in the supreme court. Opposing politicians have been removed from office as Maduro has locked up politicians who oppose his regime. This has made opposing parties in future elections much weaker and far less competitive. The transition from democracy to dictatorship has been fulfilled. 

“Photo by Carlos Garcia Rawlins, “Venezuela’s Debt Restructuring” Reuters.”

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