Venezuela

Henrique Fernando Salas Römer, chairman of Proyecto Venezuela och assistant chairman for Latin America and the Caribbean in the International Democrat Union

Henrique Fernando Salas Römer, chairman of Proyecto Venezuela och assistant chairman for Latin America and the Caribbean in the International Democrat Union

Population: 29.275 million
Area: 912 050 km2
GDP (PPP): 515.1 billion dollar (2015 estimate)
GDP per capita (PPP): 16 100 $ (2015 estimate)
Rate of growth: -5.7 % (2015 estimate)
Head of state and head of government: Nicolas Maduro Moros

Venezuela emerged as one of three states after the collapse of Gran Colombia in 1830. The other two were Ecuador and Colombia. During the first half the 20th century, Venezuela was governed by military regimes of a relatively peaceful disposition. Since 1959, the governments of Venezuela have been elected in a democratic fashion, but after the deceased Hugo Chávez was elected president in 1999, the democratic deficit has gradually increased. The country struggles with political as well as economic and social problems.

Venezuela is heavily dependent on oil revenues – they make up 90 percent of the export revenues, 50 percent of public finances and ten percent of GDP. The policies of Hugo Chávez as well as current president Nicolás Maduro have been to increase state control over the economy. This has among others been manifested through the nationalisation of banks and oil companies, harming the undiversified economy.

The price paid is failure to materialise foreign investment, a decrease of domestic production and a shortage of basic commodities. Inflation is high and was in 2013 estimated to about 56.2 percent.

Hugo Chávez, President of Venezuela until his death in 2013, called this policy for “socialism of the 21st century”. His party, the left-wing populist Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), was formed in 2008 by a number of socialist groups in order to create a solid left oriented power base.

Chavez strengthened his position further in 2009 when a referendum decided on a change in the constitution which meant that there was no limit to how many times a political representative could stand for re-election. The amended constitution gave Chavez the possibility to stand as a candidate in the presidential election in October 2012. He won the election despite the fact that he was marked by cancer and failing health condition.

In March 2013 the death of Chavez was proclaimed. On April 14 new elections was held and vice president, Nicolás Maduro, won with 51 percent of the vote against opposition single candidate Henrique Capriles, who received 49 percent. The opposition claimed that the election results were falsified and demanded conversion.

In September 2010, the opposition strengthened their positions in the parliamentary election. The pro-Chevez parties gained 48,9 percent of the votes and the opposition parties reached 47,7 percent. Due to the electoral system, the pro-Chevez parties are still controlling a vast majority of the seats in the parliament, 98 seats compared to 65 seats for the opposition.

The formal protection of the basic human rights is fairly good. In practice, however, it is anything but well. According to reports human rights violations in the form of police and military violence against journalists and opposition politicians are frequent. International human rights groups as well as UN rapporteurs are refused access to the country. The media climate is highly politicized and there are few independent news sources. Radio and TV stations, critical to the government have been closed. The legal system is inefficient and corrupt. Venezuela is at 161 out of 175 in Transparency International’s corruption list (2014).

The rising violence is a growing threat to the Venezuelan population. Murder, armed robbery, kidnapping and assault are examples of serious crimes increasing in numbers. In 2013 for example, approximately 24,700 murders were committed in the country. So-called express kidnappings, in which arbitrary detentions occur, in order to extort the victim’s relatives have become increasingly common in the capital Caracas. The judiciary is not considered independent.

On February 12, 2014 a number of students launched peaceful protests against the worsening situation in the country. The immediate response by the regime was violent, the police and paramilitary militia were ordered to attack the protesting students. From February to May more than forty people have been killed in the protests. The protests continued despite the violence and more and more people poured into the streets. On February 18, police arrested opposition leader Leopoldo López. The regime has continued to clean up the opposition and several top politicians and protest leaders have been arrested or forced to flee the country.

Declining oil prices have further worsened the already bad economy. At the same time the US enforces sanctions against senior representative in Venezuela. Hence, Maduro is cornered, but seem to choose to blame all of the country’s problems on external factors. Among other things, several leading opposition leaders have been indicted for conspiracy to murder Maduro.

The opposition, having the super majority in the National Assembly in Venezuela, is taking the first steps towards the realisation of one of their campaign promises of a draft amnesty law. The National Assembly received the draft law by a group of lawyers and human rights defenders, which opens the way for the release of the leader Leopoldo Lopez and other political prisoners. With a legislative super majority, the rescue of the institutions and the democracy in the country is more than possible.

Read more about Latin America