The Power Struggle between Venezuelan leaders
By Alexandra Beaudry
Venezuela has been in a state of crisis for years, but earlier this month, the weeklong power outage that occurred led to widespread looting, deaths in hospitals, major food shortages and anarchy in the streets. As of January 2019 “more than two dozen protesters” have reportedly been “murdered by government forces” and “over 790 arrested.” Since President Nicolas Maduro’s re-election, the loyalty Venezuelans identify towards this leader has wavered, in large part due to oppositional leader Juan Guiadó coming forward by appointing himself the title of “Venezuela’s rightful leader” as well as renouncing Maduro’s presidential candidature as “fraudulent”. That being said, tensions amplifying Venezuela’s current tumulus state stem from the power struggle between both Maduro and Guiadó’s efforts to claiming legitimate presidential title. The political climate has particularly amplified now that Maduro has made the decision to ban Guaidó from public office, allegedly for the “next 15 years”. Preventative attempts of halting the propagation of Guiadó’s platform has pre-viously occurred through the means of “placing a travel ban on him,” Maduro’s opposition none-theless proceeded to “tour Latin American countries to garner support.” As a result of Guiadó’s candidature, more than 50 countries “including most of Latin American and the United States” as well as the European Union have dismissed Maduro’s legitimacy and “have attempted to oust him by recognizing Juan Guaidó as the country’s rightful leader.” Maduro, supported by China, Cuba, Russia, and Turkey, “accuses the opposition of being part of a US-orchestrated coup” and eventu-ally arrested Guaidó’s main political adviser, Roberto Marrero, on the grounds of “planning acts of sabotage and terrorism against officials” following a raid in his home and unearthing “a large numbers of weapons.” Consequently, Marrero’s imprisonment has perpetuated international con-demnation, particularly the United States, who “imposed sanctions […] on state-owned Venezue-lan development bank Bandes.” The prospect of Guaidó becoming subject to harm or imprison-ment himself still stands as a possible outcome, however the repercussions of doing so would like-ly perpetuate the United States as well as “its allies in the hemisphere to retaliate severely.” “Any move against Guaidó could provoke a strong reaction from Washington […] Trump has shown his weight behind efforts to unseat Maduro.”
The confrontation of presidential candidates to seize legitimate power over Venezuela is problemat-ic for the country’s civilians considering that the establishment of their loyalty to either party ulti-mately becomes a political act that determines the degree of aid that they will receive: “By letting the aid in, the military would be sending a clear message that it recognizes Guiadó as a leader; by stop-ping the supplies at the border, it shows loyalty to Maduro […] there’s more at stake here than just aid, it’s about the power of images and a showdown between two men who both claim to be Vene-zuela’s legitimate president.” The port of entry for medication, water, and food supplies is located at the border between Colombia and Venezuela, where most Venezuelans also attempt to flee the crisis, yet such aid is being withheld at the detriment of the inhabitants of the country: “The last En-covi survey reported 89.4% of respondents said their household income was not enough to buy food and 61% reported sleeping hungry at night.” Despite Maduro’s intervention to alleviate this issue through the “Clap” plan aiming to distribute food to civilians, it “does not seem to be enough”, causing hunger to be “one of the greatest threats to Venezuela’s fragile national security.” In Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, it is reported that “53% of families have had to look for good in unconventional placed, often meaning rubbish”, a finding that illustrates the result of “refrigerators remaining empty, supermarket queues growing longer and the necessity of procuring something to eat driving young people to violence.” It is pertinent to acknowledge the fact that at this given mo-ment, crimes in Venezuela tend to go unpunished and because “money is worth less than the paper it is printed on” crimes become “a viable solution to hunger.” The robbery and kidnapping industry in particular have become prominent since “gangsters recruit youngsters by paying them in food”, where they “come together in armed gangs, plunder houses and shops, and rob food from passerby.” Water accessibility equally poses a dire threat to Venezuelans, especially following the devastating blackout the country experienced in recent weeks, which caused “massive shortages on running water” and its contamination with crude oil. Furthermore, procuring this good is infeasible considering the fact that the monthly minimum wage Venezuelans receive is “an estimated $6” whilst “a 5L bottle costs about $4 at a Caracas supermarket.” This consequently leads the civilians to resorting to acquiring water from the river, “despite warnings that the water was not fit for con-sumption and could contain bacteria and parasites.” Venezuela’s growing instability has prompted “more than 3 million Venezuelans to flee the country”, making this the “world’s biggest refugee crisis after Syria.” Steve Ellner, a retired professor from Venezuela’s University of the East, argues in his writings Venezuela Regime Change ‘Made in the USA’ that despite the Trump administra-tion’s approach to bringing short-term results to the Venezuelan crisis will create the “final out-come to be negative” since it may contribute to the “fragmentation of the anti-Chavista movement” by “bolstering the position of the most radical elements of the opposition led by the VP party” as well as the likely strategy to resort to military pressure “has terrifying implications for a continent with a long history of military rule.” Alternatively, Claudio Katz, an economist and researcher with the National Council of Scientific and Technical Research in Argentina, asserts that “defeating the rightwing is the categorical priority for the present moment”, and that the adoption of a neutralist attitude is an attainable solution to the crisis, showcasing Mexican and Uruguayan governments as being advocates “for the immediate renewal of negotiations between both parties”, an initiative that “Maduro has already accepted” whilst Guaió rejects. In sum, strategies of restoring peace in Vene-zuela remains an intricacy involving internal and external participation.
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