On January 20th, Nicolas Maduro took office in a rather controversial ceremony. His second six-year term has had a rough beginning: the transparency of the election process was highly questioned; he overlooked the Constitutional procedure by taking oath before an institution that is not entitled to grant him executive power; and the whole episode highlighted the very few allies that Venezuela has left in the region. What once was one of the richest countries in the world due to oil production became the laboratory of a decadent political experiment called “socialism of the 21st century”, which today is facing skyrocketing levels of inflation, shortages and a President controlling all the branches of power.
6.2 million votes and 46% turnout
In May 2018, Nicolas Maduro and the government were the only political actors celebrating his historical victory. The unprecedented levels of non-attendance to the polling centres were encouraged by the main representatives of the opposition with the objective of boycotting the elections. Around nine million citizens decided not to participate in the elections to show their discontent with the current economic and political situation. Evidently, this turned out to be a mistake.
Under the administration of Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela has suffered an unmatched deterioration of living standards. Approximately 87% of the population lives below the poverty line, which is explained by prices inflating by 200,000% over the course of a year. The situation is worsened by the shortage of necessity goods and medicines in a country that encourages its citizens to look for better opportunities abroad. All this has culminated in the largest humanitarian crisis ever registered in the region, an exodus of around three million people.
Atypical swearing in
The Venezuelan Constitution entrusts the National Assembly with the responsibility of transferring power to the elected President, but Nicolas Maduro celebrated the ceremony in the Supreme Court. This happened because in 2016 the government party lost control of the National Assembly; as a consequence, it was stripped of its powers. The president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly labelled the elections as illegitimate and called on the citizens and military to reject the results in May, but the plea was unsuccessful. The call to the military forces is strategic because it is their alliance with the government that has enabled Maduro to stay in power so far, as has been the case throughout history for all authoritarian regimes in Latin America. The opposition remains weak because the government has managed to contain it, as well as incarcerate and exile most of its political leaders. Currently, the opposition is calling on foreign support because it remains too fragmented to face the government in power.
For the swearing in ceremony, Maduro chose one institution that the Executive has managed to co-opt and control: the Justice. This situation has long been denounced by citizens, politicians, non-governmental organisations and was once again confirmed by a now former judge of the same Court of Justice that confirmed Maduro. He fled Venezuela for the United States after acknowledging that Palacio Miraflores, the presidential residence, has taken control of all the Supreme Court to perpetuate the regime.
The major absentees
In political and diplomatic terms, the attendance of heads of state during the oath-taking ceremony is a vivid expression of support and recognition. In the case of Maduro’s ceremony, only three presidents from Latin America were present: Evo Morales from Bolivia, Miguel Díaz-Canel from Cuba and Daniel Ortega from Nicaragua. Thirteen members of the Lima Group (a summit created to discuss the Venezuelan situation in 2017 when the government violently repressed demonstrations and killed two hundred people) not only did not show up but urged Maduro to cede power in the context of an illegitimate election. Some of them even established diplomatic sanctions: Paraguay withdrew its representation in the country and Peru barred high-ranking Venezuelan officials linked to the regime from entering the country.
Another major absentee was the Ecuadorian representation, that had until months ago had an indulgent attitude towards the government of Nicolas Maduro. Now, the Mexican government with its new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a self-proclaimed socialist, has adopted such an attitude and sent a representative to the event. However, the government in power does not have a very bright future ahead, with the United States, Canada and twelve Latin American countries condemning the human rights violations involved, qualifying the regime as a dictatorship and imposing sanctions on the country. The recently elected Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, is also a prominent figure because it confirms that nowhere near Venezuelan borders can an ally be found: in fact it is very much the opposite. The list of attendees from outside the continent did not look much better. No representative from the European Union was to be found, but representatives of Russia, China, Turkey and the independent Georgian province of South Ossetia. The world leaders that supported Nicolas Maduro depicted the exact opposite of free elections and transparent democracy.
Isolation is on the horizon
What is evident is that in the near future Venezuela will remain isolated and the economic and social crisis in the country will worsen. Maduro blames external actors – notably the United States – for the economic catastrophe and denies the existence of massive migration. Regarding the low revenue from oil production, the Venezuelan executive will try to find new ways to keep its main internal ally, the military force, on its side but governability will certainly be an issue. Active collaboration between States to manage the refugee crisis in the region is mandatory, but wider international cooperation will also be necessary to stop an autocratic regime from worsening the lives of millions of people now and in the years to come under Maduro’s administration.