23 January 2019   Leave a comment

US President Trump has recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Gauido as the legitimate leader of the country, pushing aside Nicolas Maduro’s claim as President after a recent election. Maduro came to power after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013 after being President for 14 years. Chavez was supported by the poor in Venezuela because of his willingness to spend money subsidizing the poor, a policy made possible by relatively high prices for oil, Venezuela’s main export. Maduro has attempted to continue that policy despite the collapse of oil prices, a policy that has led to inflation rates calculated in the millions of a percent. Maduro remains popular among some sectors of the Venezuelan population, but millions of Venezuelans have fled the country because of widespread shortages of food, medicine, and other necessary supplies. Al Jazeera outlines the problems that Venezuela has faced since the death of Chavez:

“When Maduro took over as president after Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, the oil-reliant economy was already in trouble. When global oil prices dropped in 2014, businesses were no longer able to import goods at the same rate as before, skyrocketing prices and inflation.

“According to analysts, the contraction of the national and per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in Venezuela between 2013 and 2017 was more severe than that of the United States, during the Great Depression, or Russia, and Cuba following the collapse of the Soviet Union, heavily impacting the living conditions of millions.

“In 2014, thousands took to the streets to protest inflation and living conditions. The government cracked down on the protests, leaving at least 11 dead.

“In 2015, opposition politicians won a majority in the legislature – the National Assembly – for the first time in nearly two decades.

“However, in 2016, Venezuela’s government stripped the National Assembly of powers to oversee the economy, and in March 2017, the judicial branch briefly dissolved the National Assembly.”

The opposition had boycotted the election in January which raised serious questions about the legitimacy of Maduro’s tenure as President. Gaudio has led a spirited and dangerous campaign against Maduro, urging the Venezuelan military to oust the President. Today the US recognized Gauido as the legitimate President of Venezuela and, in response, Maduro has ordered all US diplomats out of the country in 72 hours. Much depends on which side the Venezuelan military supports and we should know the answer to that question fairly soon.

The US is in a very difficult situation. It needs to express its support for democratic institutions in Venezuela but it also needs to keep out of Venezuela’s internal affairs. If violence breaks out in Venezuela, there will be great pressure on the US to protect US citizens in the country and perhaps even to help bring about an end to violence. The US, however, would be well advised not to do either of these things unilaterally but rather in combination with other states in the region.

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has responded forcefully to the protests against his government, leading many observers to fear a return to the authoritarian policies followed by his predecessor Robert Mugabe. The economy is in very dire straits and inflation is increasing rapidly, putting many necessary goods out of reach for many Zimbabweans. The country requires outside financial assistance but it currently is behind on repaying loans to the World Bank, African Development Bank and European Investment Bank. The violence in Zimbabwe has never really abated, but it seems as if the hopes for a better future after Mnangagwa took power will not be realized.

Posted January 23, 2019 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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