GDP PER CAPITA
(World Bank 2013)
FREEDOM HOUSE RATINGS
- Freedom in the World (2016)
- Freedom on the Net (2015)
- Freedom of the Press (2015)
- Freedom in the World (2016)
Corruption Perceptions Index
Taking office after a controversial 2013 election, President Nicolás Maduro has sought to continue the Bolivarian revolution started by Hugo Chavez— while resorting to increasingly repressive methods to maintain power.
THE BOLIVARIAN REPUBLIC OF VENEZUELA
One month after President Hugo Chavez’s death in March 2013, his handpicked successor, Nicolas Maduro, took office following a controversial and flawed election. Maduro inherited a politically polarized country suffering from high rates of violence and economic fragility.
Lacking his predecessor’s charisma but intending to sustain Chavez’s “Bolivarian Revolution”, Maduro has resorted to increasingly authoritarian methods to maintain a coalition of regime supporters and restrict space for political opposition. Mass protests against Maduro’s regime in February 2014 were met with brutal repression: more than 1,000 demonstrators were arrested, protestors faced violent attacks from chavista colectivos, access to social media was restricted, and several opposition leaders and civil society activists remain in jail more than a year later.
Opposition politicians and independent NGOs, particularly in the human rights field, are systematically impeded by legal and extralegal actions, and threatened by measures that jeopardize their financial survival. Press freedom has been severely curtailed as the government has employed various mechanisms to force the closures of most independent media outlets.
Despite Latin America’s professed support for the defense of democracy, Maduro uses his political influence in the region to evade criticism about Venezuela’s human rights record. Further afield, Venezuela has sought economic and political support from illiberal powers and cultivated alliances with some of the world’s most notorious authoritarian regimes.
- INTERNAL CHALLENGES
Once among Latin America’s wealthiest countries, Venezuela’s economy has deteriorated precipitously under Chavez and Maduro’s rule. Price controls, profit restrictions, and a tightly-controlled foreign exchange rate have led to shortages of basic consumer goods and contributed to high inflation. The global fall of oil prices has restricted the government’s available cash flow and foreign reserves, exacerbating the country’s economic troubles.
With the world’s second highest homicide rate in 2014, Venezuela’s high levels of violent crime are a serious concern for many citizens. Allegations that government and military officials are engaged in corruption have also surfaced. Government subsidies, preferential access to foreign reserves, and multiple exchange rates allow well-connected individuals to sell subsidized gasoline, consumer products, and illicit drugs on the black market. Maduro has responded to increasing unrest by appointing many former high-ranking military officers to top government positions in order to guarantee military support for the regime. As tensions continue to mount over Venezuela’s economy and the regime’s divisive politics, Maduro’s actions reflect those of a leader on the path to dictatorship.
- AUTHORITARIAN COOPERATION & LEARNING
Chavez pioneered a number of techniques for consolidating political power which other leaders in Latin America have sought to emulate. Strategies such as rewriting the constitution, appointing new, pliant judges, ruling by executive decree, and altering presidential term limits have benefited incumbent leaders in the region while allowing them to maintain a veneer of democracy.
The environment for civil society in Venezuela has noticeably worsened over the past decade. The country has adopted a number of laws which restrict freedom of association and limit non-governmental organizations’ access to foreign funding—many of which have reemerged in similar form in other semi-authoritarian countries in the region, such as Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua.
Much of Venezuela’s increased repression is suspected to be the work of Cuban military and intelligence operatives embedded in the highest levels of Venezuela’s government and security apparatus. Venezuela and Cuba enjoy a close relationship in which Venezuela provides critical economic support to the Castro brothers’ regime. In exchange, Cuba publicly provides Venezuela with medical doctors, political solidarity, and international support, but its most valuable asset has been to secretly provide Venezuela with intelligence support to prevent coordinated political dissent.
- SUBVERTING THE INTERNATIONAL SYSTEM
Seeking to escape the democratic norms enshrined in the inter-American system by the Organization of American States (OAS), Venezuela has helped create a parallel system of regional institutions, such as the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC). These organizations emphasize state sovereignty over the collective defense of democratic principles and effectively shield Maduro’s regime from scrutiny. Through initiatives such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and PetroCaribe, Venezuela masks generous economic support to allied authoritarian and semi-authoritarian regimes in Cuba, Ecuador, and Nicaragua under the pretense of providing economic and social aid.
As Venezuela promotes alternative norms and institutions, it simultaneously works alongside Ecuador to attack the OAS and its human rights bodies, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) and Inter-American Court of Human Rights. After supporting a failed attempt to “reform” the IACHR, Venezuela officially withdrew from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in 2013. The Maduro regime has fought back against attempts by the OAS to discuss the country’s political crisis and declined to invite OAS election monitors to observe its 2013 elections, instead inviting a less scrupulous UNASUR “electoral international accompanying mission.”
- MEDIA MANIPULATION
Spinning news coverage in favor of the regime and painting political opposition as enemies of the revolution has been a key strategy used by both Chavez and Maduro to manipulate public opinion. Under Chavez, the Venezuelan government first focused on expanding state media and speaking directly to the population by broadcasting its narrative on Aló Presidente, Chavez’s personal television show, and TeleSUR, an alternative regional news outlet. Chavez’s government also used media regulations to force the closures of critical private radio stations and television channels.
Under Maduro, space for independent media continues to shrink as a result of stealth censorship and outright repression. Popular independent outlets such as Globovisión, Últimas Noticias, and El Universal have been mysteriously sold to unknown investors who have implemented pro-government editorial policies. In other instances, the Venezuelan government has ejected foreign media outlets while harassing and deporting foreign reporters.
Venezuela has also become more aggressive in exerting control over online speech. Internet service is concentrated in the hands of just a few companies, and the government’s National Telecommunications Commission made Internet service providers responsible for restricting access to unapproved content. During the 2014 protests, the government restricted access to some social media applications in an effort to disrupt protesters and suppress evidence of the government crackdown.
- RESURGENT DICTATORSHIP
As Venezuela’s economic crisis deepens, it is likely that Maduro’s regime will resort to further repressive measures. Thus far, Maduro’s government has demonstrated remarkable elite cohesion while the opposition remains fragmented. Venezuela has cultivated strong relationships with many countries in the region, and those governments who have benefitted from Venezuela’s oil largesse and political solidarity now find themselves dependent on Maduro remaining in power to support their own economy and political base. If Maduro is able to maintain internal and external support through the use of authoritarian tactics, it will be increasingly difficult for Venezuela to regain lost ground on the road to democracy.