Venezuela teeters on the brink of disaster

La revolución: At least 20 protesters have been killed in recent weeks and hundreds arrested.

Under President Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela has spiralled into tyranny and economic chaos. Now, he has a young challenger and world powers are lining up to pick sides. Is civil war looming?

Not for the first time, the streets of Venezuela are filled with protests. Rubber bullets, flames and blood litter the ground as young and old march together against Nicolás Maduro, the country’s widely hated socialist president.

Now, the movement has a figurehead in Juan Guaidó, head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which Maduro stripped of its power.

On Wednesday, Guaidó declared himself acting president, two weeks after Maduro was sworn in for his second term. “We all know this will have consequences,” said the opposition leader gravely.

The National Assembly rejects the result of last year’s elections, in which Maduro won a second term. The vote was boycotted by the opposition and marred by allegations of vote rigging. Many of Maduro’s critics were imprisoned or barred from running.

The US immediately recognised Guaidó as president. Maduro responded by cutting off diplomatic ties, accusing the US of plotting to remove him.

“Now it is time for every other nation to pick a side,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at an emergency United Nations (UN) meeting on Saturday. “Either you stand with the forces of freedom, or you’re in league with Maduro and his mayhem.”

European nations including the UK and France have given Maduro an ultimatum: announce new elections within eight days, or we will back Guaidó.

Russia, however, said the US’s actions are a “direct path to bloodshed”. China and Turkey backed Maduro too.

Most importantly, Maduro has held onto the support of the country’s military. But Guaidó has made a play, urging soldiers to “put themselves on the side of the Venezuelan people”.

Venezuela is economically crippled. Inflation has skyrocketed to 1,300,000% since Maduro was elected in 2013, rendering the currency almost worthless.

Some 80% of Venezuelans say they cannot afford enough food. Power cuts are common. Diseases like malaria are on the rise due to medicine shortages, while cancer patients go without treatment.

The crisis is the result of decades of corruption, backfiring economic policies and a dependence on tumbling oil prices.

Now, Guaidó is calling for more peaceful protests, but UN chiefs warn the situation could “rapidly spiral out of control”.

Point break

The US recognised Guaidó as president quickly, and President Donald Trump has not ruled out military action. Should foreign powers have a say in who rules a country? What if democracy in that country is broken? After the Iraq war, many would say no.

Venezuela is just the latest battleground for the US and Russia to face-off. Are we returning to the Cold War, when the world was divided between Western and Soviet spheres of influence? Perhaps we’re already there.

You Decide

  1. Is protest effective for bringing change?
  2. Can socialist governments be successful?

Activities

  1. Research the economic crisis in Venezuela and make a short presentation about what day-to-day life is like in the country.
  2. Research and make a timeline of major political events in Venezuela since Hugo Chavez’s failed attempt to seize power in 1992 to the present day.

Some People Say...

“Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy.”

Winston Churchill

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Last week, Venezuela’s National Assembly leader, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president after weeks of protests against President Nicolás Maduro. Guaidó’s opposition does not accept Maduro as president as they say last year’s election was rigged in Maduro’s favour and opposition candidates were imprisoned. The US has recognised Guaidó as president, but Russia and China have sided with Maduro.
What do we not know?
What happens now. Sensing danger, Maduro took a moderate tone in an interview yesterday, saying “I believe in dialogue” and suggesting that he could meet President Trump to discuss the crisis. However, Maduro rejected calls from Europe to hold new elections. Protests could escalate as tensions continue to rise, which could lead to more deaths.

Word Watch

First time
Over 110 people died in protests in 2017 after Maduro dissolved the National Assembly and arrested opposition leaders.
National Assembly
Replaced with the National Constituent Assembly, which is filled with Maduro’s allies.
Russia
Russia has close ties to Venezuela through the oil trade and its military. Moscow has reportedly sent unofficial military personnel to Venezuela to protect Maduro.
Inflation
Within just one week in December, the price of a coffee in the capital Caracas doubled to 400 bolivar.
80%
According to an annual survey by three Venezuelan universities.
Backfiring
Maduro’s socialist predecessor, Hugo Chavez, introduced price controls intended to make sure poor people could afford basic supplies. However, the controls meant that Venezuelan businesses failed because they could not make a profit on their products, deepening the economic crisis.
Oil prices
Venezuela is the world’s biggest producer of crude oil. Oil prices collapsed in 2014, shortly after Maduro took power. Oil production has also slowed down due to corruption and government inefficiency.

Subjects

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