Venezuela is a country located in the region of South America. Venezuela is in a deep crisis. President Nicolás Maduro is pressured by the outside world to resign but refuses. The economy is in free fall with deep misery and widespread violent crime as a result. The crisis came to a head when the United States and most heavyweights in the EU and Latin America explicitly recognized President of the National Assembly Juan Guaidó as president during a transitional period. But the power struggle between Maduro and Guaidó has ended in a deadlock.
The then 35-year-old Juan Guaidó was a relatively unknown member of parliament before being elected President of the National Assembly at the beginning of January 2019. The National Assembly had no real influence for a couple of years, but Guaidó still managed to become the opposition’s leading figurehead. He proclaimed himself interim president in connection with the biggest street protests against the regime since the unrest in 2017 (see Modern History). Guaidó supported the Constitution, pointing out that the recent presidential election was not legitimate and that he, as President, would take over the President’s duties.
- Countryaah: Country facts and history of Venezuela, including state flag, location map, demographics, GDP data, currency code, and business statistics.
Juan Guaidó was immediately recognized by the United States, which was soon followed by others. Within weeks, over 50 countries had recognized Guaidó as the legitimate leader in Venezuela, including several EU countries (including Sweden). But then the acknowledgments largely stopped, and besides some left-wing Latin American countries, Russia, China and Turkey, among others, have moved to Maduro’s defense. Consequently, the conflict in Venezuela had major political consequences.
However, hopes that Guaidó’s challenge and the support he received abroad would lead to rapid change came as shame. Guaidó has been trying to entice militants to switch sides through promises of amnesty, without gaining any greater hearing. One month after appointing himself as president, the conflict was called when Guaidó tried to organize citizens to help bring supplies into the crisis-affected country, from aid broadcasts stopped by the authorities at the border with Colombia and Brazil. Neither did it lead to anything decisive (see Calendar).
Almost two weeks later, on March 7, Venezuela was hit by extensive power outages that have continued to occur at irregular intervals. The disruptions aggravate the already strained humanitarian situation (see Calendar).
The United States and several other countries sent emergency aid to Venezuela during the chaotic event, but shipments were stopped at the borders. Finally, in mid-April, relief shipments under the auspices of the Red Cross were released into the country.
Calls without results
On April 30, Guaidó tried to get a public uprising with the support of defunct soldiers, but he misjudged everything to judge the situation. Only about 30 soldiers joined the opposition and after a couple of days of clashes between security forces and protesters the revolt was over. Within a few weeks, the Supreme Court had appointed 15 members of the National Assembly accused of treason. One of them, Vice President Edgar Zambrano, was arrested, while others have fled the country, taken refuge in foreign embassies or gone underground. Zambrano was released from the detention a few months later (see Calendar).
During the summer, talks between the government and representatives of Guaidó were held first in Norway and then in Barbados, under Norwegian mediation. It was the first time since the beginning of 2018 that there was even an approach to dialogue. Soon, however, the conversations seemed to reach the end of the road (see Calendar).
In early May 2020, a coastal invasion attempt was reported, with mercenaries and a US security company in the background. This led to a strengthening of the already poor relations with the United States (see Calendar and Foreign Policy and Defense). At the same time, the corona pandemic was going on in the world, which meant another burden on the already hard-pressed Venezuelan society.
The crisis in Venezuela has gradually worsened since Maduro took office in 2013. The country is in a political, economic and social crisis of enormous proportions. In what was considered some decades ago as the richest country in Latin America, citizens today have to fight for their survival. Lawlessness has exploded and the refugee wave out of the country that emerged is described as the most dramatic in the history of Latin America. The UN estimates that around 4.5 million Venezuelans have left the country since 2015 (see also Population and languages, Economic overview and Social conditions). Those who remain live in difficult conditions. Nine out of ten residents do not get enough food, hunger is widespread and there are reports of children starving to death. Health care has largely ceased to function as there are no medicines and other materials, and more than half of the staff have left the country. Only half of the children go to school regularly because of lack of food, water, means of transport etc. The crime of violence is so widespread that many do not venture outside the door.
Regular presidential elections would have been held by the end of 2018, but were preceded by the government despite protests from the opposition. When the election was held in May that year, Maduro won according to official data with a wide margin. But most of the opposition boycotted the election, citing the lack of conditions for a fair election (see Calendar). The result was also not recognized by the USA, the EU or the 14 countries in the so-called Lime Group (see Foreign Policy and Defense).
Independent judges believe that the elections in Venezuela up to and including 2015 were generally free and the results correct, even if the conditions were not fair. Huge government resources have gone to the ruling Socialist Party’s (PSUV) campaigns, not least in state radio and TV, while the opposition has basically been excluded from the etheric media. The government also largely controls the judiciary and the CNE electoral authority.
But above all Maduro’s representative Hugo Chávez also had strong support from a large part of the population. This was mainly the case with the large groups that were previously excluded from power and influence, and which benefited from his investments in schools, housing and hospitals. Many felt that “chavism” gave them a human dignity and civil rights that they had previously lacked. Some of them continue to support Maduro – out of genuine loyalty or to continue to receive subsidized food bags. However, when Maduro formally assumed the new term of office, in January 2019, opposition to the regime intensified.
Split government opposition
The opposition to Maduro and PSUV consists of groupings that spread in different directions and have little more in common than opposition to the regime. An attempt was nevertheless made in the spring of 2018 to form an opposition alliance that calls itself the Wide Front Free Venezuela (Frente Amplio Venezuela Libre, FAVL). It includes opposition parties, trade unions, business associations, churches, universities, students and other groups representing civil society. FAVL has presented an economic stabilization plan that can be applied if Maduro resigns.
The opposition has long lacked a clear political leadership figure. The former most well-known leaders have been arrested (for example, Leopoldo López), suspended from politics (Henrique Capriles), or are on the run (Antonio Ledezma). In Guaidó suddenly there is a leader who has also received extensive support from abroad.
The National Assembly headed by Guaidó was elected in December 2015 but has been suspended by Maduro, with the help of government-loyal members of the Supreme Court and the electoral authority. Instead, the government has appointed a so-called constitutional assembly, also made up of party-loyal members, and transferred the legislative power there (see Modern history). But the opposition-controlled National Assembly has continued to work, although it is essentially a symbolic act. Juan Guaidó cannot really take power on his own. In the first place, it would require the Armed Forces to switch sides, but the military has remained loyal to Maduro. Government opponents’ only way of communicating with citizens is through social media, as the traditional media channels are controlled by the regime. When Guaidó proclaimed himself president, state television showed pictures of government-led protesters elsewhere. But Guaidó has millions of followers on Twitter and Instagram.
In early 2020, a new uproar arose in connection with the annual election of the President of the National Assembly. Both Guaidó and a faithful member proclaimed themselves winners with the support of various groupings of members and in practice there are now two rival national assemblies, alongside the Constitutional Assembly (see Calendar).
Follow the ongoing development of the Calendar.
READING TIPS – read more about Venezuela in the UI web magazine Foreign
magazine: Venezuela – a maze of power and doubles (2020-01-30)
Expert in Venezuela: The military should be part of the solution of the crisis (2019-04-21) Cuban reform discussion nothing for Castro’s Disciples (2018-09-25)
FACTS – POLITICS
Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela / Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
republic, federal state
Head of State and Government
President Nicolás Maduro (2013–) 1
Most important parties with mandates in the last election
Democratic Alliance Assembly (MUD) 112 (of which 3 allied representatives of indigenous peoples), Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV) with allied parties 55 (2015)
Main parties with mandates in the second most recent elections
Venezuela United Socialist Party (PSUV) 98, Democratic Unity Collection (MUD) 65, Fosterlands for All (PPT) 2 (2010)
48% in the 2018 presidential election (questioned figure), 74% in the 2015 parliamentary elections
parliamentary elections 2020, presidential elections 2024
- Parliament’s President Juan Guaidó announced in January 2019 as President; has been recognized by Sweden and some 50 other countries