Date first published: 27/04/2017
Key sectors: all
Key risks: violent unrest; looting; deadly clashes; deadly clashes
Violence has once again erupted in crisis-ridden Venezuela. At least 29 people have been killed since the pro-government Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) ruled on 29 March to take over the legislative powers of the opposition-led National Assembly (NA). Unprecedented regional and international pressure amid growing concern over the self-evident deterioration of Venezuela’s democratic order led the TSJ to partially backtrack on the controversial ruling. Nevertheless, the opposition managed to capitalise on the move and thousands of Venezuelans have since taken to the streets across the country to demand early presidential elections, the release of political prisoners and respect for the NA, currently declared in contempt. Venezuela’s militarised police violently supressed almost all protests, with pro-government militias known as ‘colectivos’ firing live ammunition at protesters. Looting incidents have also been reported, further adding to the chaos in which the country is immersed. Recent developments confirm that there is definitely no easy way out.
The ongoing anti- and pro-government demonstrations are the most violent since those observed in 2014, when 43 people were killed during two months of violent protests. President Nicolas Maduro is apparently determined to continue to suppress the persistent wave of unrest. During the past four weeks, opposition demonstrators have been recurrently met with tear gas and water cannon in the capital Caracas and other urban centres. The Francisco Fajardo highway has become a key site of violent clashes, as well as the vicinity of universities. It should be noted that demonstrations are also increasingly taking place in western Caracas, historically a pro-government area, indicating Maduro continues to lose support as the long-standing economic crisis and increasingly evident authoritarian drive shows no sign of abating.
Maduro remains unlikely to offer an easy – or even peaceful – way out of the widening crisis, even when international pressure for the government to ease repression and restore democratic order mounts to unseen levels. The government still has the support of the armed forces, where dissent is minimal mostly due to a meticulous purge of those voicing different views to the omnipresent executive power. Moreover, even if the opposition has managed to reignite nation-wide protests, the MUD coalition is far from being as united as needed to offer a strong, viable alternative to the ruling PSUV. Even if Maduro were to authorise snap presidential elections, due in 2019, the process would be controversial and far from free and fair. On 23 April Maduro agreed to hold gubernatorial and mayoral elections in 2017 in an attempt to ease tensions. He also called for the resumption of dialogue with the opposition after Vatican-mediated talks collapsed in December 2016. None of these would be enough for an orderly transition of power, which seems increasingly distant.
Venezuela’s crisis could descend into deeper chaos should the country further isolate itself from the international stage. On 26 April Maduro ordered Venezuela’s withdrawal from the Organisation of American States (OAS) after the regional group voted to hold a foreign ministers meeting to discuss the country’s crisis. Both the OAS and the economic regional bloc Mercosur are likely to review Venezuela’s status over the coming weeks, with Maduro showing a defiant stance against what the government perceives as international interference in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution. The opposition has vowed to resist, Maduro has too.