A Tale of Two Claimants: Who Rightfully Governs Venezuela?

The love triangle between Maduro, Guaido and the Venezuelan Government: explained.

by Noah Kotlarek

Copy Editor

Currently, two men claim to be the President of Venezuela. The first is Nicolas Maduro; the second is Juan Guaidó. Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly (Venezuela’s parliament) cites Article 223 of Venezuela’s constitution to justify his claim to presidency.  The Article reads that during “pending election and inauguration of the new President, the President of the National Assembly shall take charge of the Presidency of the Republic.” Guaidó and his supporters argue that the election is still pending since only 46% of the population voted, down from the 80% that voted in the past two elections, coupled with evidence of anti-democratic election procedures and pressures.

So how did Venezuela end up here?  In December 1998, Jugo Chávez from the United Socialist Party, was elected President of Venezuela. Chávez planned to solve Venezuela’s poverty problems by redistributing the country’s oil wealth, which is the biggest in the world, and was thus championed as a man for the people. To accomplish this redistribution, Chávez nationalized the oil industry. When he entered office, Venezuelan oil was priced at $8.00 per barrel. By 2004, it had risen to $100.00 per barrel.  Because Venezuela was selling massive amounts of oil for high prices, Chávez was able to fund his expensive and extensive social programs, known as Misiones, which included access to university education, healthcare, job training, and food.  At this time, Chávez saw the flaw in his plan: he would no longer be able to fund his Misiones if the oil prices plummeted. So, he worked to make Venezuela agriculturally independent among other industries. In 2006, when Chávez was reelected, he decided to go a step further and nationalize all sectors of the market that at the time were private. Oil, electricity, telecommunications, and banking (Chávez purchased Banco de Venezuela from Santander) were all nationalized. This nationalization was much more inefficient and expensive than the privatized economy, but because prices of oil were kept high and borrowing from foreign governments was possible, Venezuela stayed afloat.  Quickly though, things began to take a turn for the worst. In 2013, Chávez died of a heart attack.  Foreign investors noticed Venezuela was not repaying its debt and pulled out of the country. Then, in 2014, oil prices dropped. Bigly. Venezuela could no longer rely on oil to fund its social programs and repay its debt. It could also not afford to purchase medicine and food, both of which were imports. Unfortunately for Venezuela, it had no other goods or services to lean back on, as in 2012, oil made up 95% of the nation’s exports.

In the midst of this turmoil Nicolas Maduro, Chávez’s chosen successor, came to the Presidency on April 19th, 2013. It is important to note that Chávez was democratically elected in 2013. Since he became president, Maduro has done nothing to mitigate the economic catastrophe in Venezuela. Rather, Maduro has mismanaged the country and situations have declined since 2014. Today, Venezuelans suffer from food, water, toothpaste, and hygienic product shortages due to foreign disinterest, its oil heavy market, and its inability to import necessities. The Andrew Bello Catholic University in Caracas reported that in 2017, Venezuelans lost an average 24 pounds and that 90% of the population now lives below the poverty line. Inflation, exodus, and starvation are three accurate ways to describe what is occurring in Venezuela.

Venezuelan native Daniel Davallio (FCRH ’22) sums up the country’s situation thusly: “Venezuela… was one of the most successful Latin American countries in the 20th century, if not the most successful. Unfortunately, due to unacceptable decision making in the 21st century, it is one of the poorest countries not only in Latin America, but in the world.”

Maduro has been able to stay in power thanks to the military’s loyalty. Maduro promotes those in the military who support him and gives them healthy bonuses. Those who speak out against the leader are removed. Others in the military who resent Maduro do not express it. Many involved in the military are also involved in drug trafficking and other illegal activities. If Maduro falls, so will his protection of them.

Now, however, Maduro has a challenger: Guaidó. Guaidó promises to lead a transitional government and ensure a truly democratic election to topple Maduro.  Maduro, on his part, maintains that he is the only president.

The United States and other western countries have responded to Guaidó’s announcement by recognizing him, rather than Maduro, as the official leader of Venezuela. The United States has imposed sanctions on Venezuelan oil, which makes up 40% of Venezuela’s exports and is controlled by Maduro. Some, however, fear these sanctions will only exacerbate the current humanitarian crisis and give reason for Maduro to stay in power. Essentially, they fear that the sanctions will enable Maduro to say, “look what the U.S. has done; they support Guaidó.” China and Russia, for their part, support Maduro.

Venezuela’s situation shows the importance of having a diverse economy, practical leaders with reasonable plans, and law-abiding military leaders. This, we must hope, is what Guaidó will deliver.

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