Tag Archives: Nicolás Maduro

Venezuela – Current and Former Latin American Presidents Denounce Recent Events

The situation in Venezuela appears to be deteriorating. Amid daily street protests, a steady stream of fatalities as police clash with protestors, rampant price instability and food shortages, and against a backdrop of a crumbling state, epitomised by rising infant mortality and malaria cases, Nicolás Maduro, the embattled president of Venezuela, has stepped up his confrontation with the opposition controlled legislature.

As I have written recently on this blog, although political machinations denied the opposition the two thirds majority needed to change the constitution, they have nonetheless been a thorn in the side of President Maduro, and at the end of last month, the Venezuelan Supreme Court announced that it would take over and assume the legislative powers of the opposition-dominated Congress. In the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of opposition initiatives.

This move sent the opposition into overdrive and sparked a wave of street protests and international condemnation. Now, President Maduro has called for a new constitution, and requested that a constitutional assembly, or constituyente, be established in order to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state. President Maduro issued a decree to begin the process of convening such an assembly. This move has sparked even more intense protests and to add to the chaos, President Maduro’s supporters have also taken to the street to defend the call for the assembly.

Given that presidential elections are due to held in December 2018, it seems likely that the purpose of the constitutional assembly would be to prolong or delay this election, and extend the tenure of President Maduro. At the same time, the existence of an alternative legislative body, could undermine the legitimacy and power of the current opposition dominated Congress. A similar tactic was employed by Rafael Correa in 2007.

But the last vestiges of the Venezuelan government’s international legitimacy appear to have ebbed away. Having been suspended from the Mercosur since December, today at a meeting in Buenos Aires, a group of current and former Latin American Presidents denounced what they termed the “descent into hell” of Venezuela. This group included President Mauricio Macri of Argentina, former Uruguayan president, Julio María Sanguinetti, former Chilean president, Ricardo Lagos, former Brazilian president, Fernando Henrique Cardoso and former Spanish prime minister, Felipe González.  They specifically criticised President Maduro’s plans to rewrite the constitution.

Of course, what effect this will have remains to be seen. It doesn’t appear as if President Maduro has very many options. Given the depth of polarization in Venezuela and the anger of the opposition, any chance of a controlled transition seems improbable. In response to increasing opposition, the government has moved towards increasing authoritarianism. For the people of Venezuela, an end to this crisis still seems like a long way away.

Venezuela – Pressure Mounts on President Maduro

The pressure continues to mount for the beleaguered president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. Protests are a recurrent feature of life in Caracas; there are shortages of consumer goods in supermarkets across the country; and inflation is estimated to top 750 per cent this year. To add to his woes, the last legislative election in December saw President Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), lose their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). Venezuela’s problems are now compounded by divided government.

As I have discussed on this blog, although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political shenanigans managed to prevent the super-majority taking all of their seats. The Supreme Court, which the MUD have accused of being full of Maduro’s supporters, barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election. To prevent the escalation of another political crisis, in January, the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

The opposition however, although they now don’t have the magic two-thirds needed for constitutional reform, are using their healthy majority to good advantage. With Maduro’s approval rating in the low thirties, opposition attacks on his administration are coming thick and fast. Although attempts to cut term limits from six to four years, forcing elections to be held in 2016 were curtailed by the denial of their super-majority, one opposition party, Voluntad Popular, led by incarcerated political leader Leopoldo López, are proposing a constitutional assembly to rewrite the constitution (and presumably reverse many of the reforms that gave the current incumbent such political power). At the same time, another opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, is pushing for a revocatory referendum – basically a public vote of confidence in President Maduro and his administration. The opposition however, would need to present 4 million signatures (or 20 per cent of the electorate) to the electoral commission for this referendum to go ahead.

And last week, Congress passed an amnesty law that would allow 77 political prisoners, which have been jailed by the government, to be set free. These would include the highly popular opposition leader, Leopoldo López. The Venezuelan constitution does not grant President Maduro veto power, but presidents are allowed to refer a bill to the Supreme Court, who can rule on the legitimacy of the legislation. So far, in the government’s battle with Congress, the Supreme Court has proven to be President Maduro’s best ally, striking down a number of the opposition initiatives.  In this case, an amnesty such as this can be challenged if any of those to be released have breached human rights laws. The opposition argue that this simply would not be realistic.

Executive-legislative relations in Venezuela looks set to only deteriorate.

Venezuela – Opposition Legislators Give Up Seats in Stand-Off

For Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president and the chosen successor of Hugo Chávez, life has been very difficult recently. With shortages of goods in supermarkets across the country, spiraling inflation, protests and a record low oil price, political capital has been hard to generate. President Maduro’s woes were compounded by a very poor electoral result last month for his party, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), which has resulted in divided government.

In December, elections were held to choose all 167 legislators for the unicameral Venezuelan National Assembly. Voter discontent and somewhat ironically, the shift to a mixed-majoritarian electoral system, allowed the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), to win a very healthy majority in the house, and overturn the government majority for the first time in seventeen year.[1] The PSUV, penalized by the majoritarianism of the new electoral system, won only 55 of the seats. In contrast, the MUD managed to win 109 of the seats in the house, including the three seats reserved for indigenous representatives.

This gives the MUD the magic supermajority, which would allow them to begin the process of peeling back many of the reforms of the Bolivarian revolution; change the constitution; and appoint new Supreme Court justices. However last Monday, the current Supreme Court, which the MUD have accused of being full of Maduro’s supporters, barred three opposition legislators and one from the governing coalition from taking their seats. These four legislators are all from the state of Amazonas, and the PSUV alleged that there had been irregularities during the election. These four legislators were to be suspended until an investigation into electoral practices could be conducted.

If these three MUD legislators are unable to take their seats, then the opposition coalition loses their crucial two-thirds supermajority majority, significantly curtailing their ability to dismantle the Bolivarian reforms.

Regardless, on Wednesday of last week, the three opposition members of the Assembly were officially sworn in. On Monday, the Supreme Court announced that any decisions from the Assembly would be overturned, as the house has breached the Constitution by allowing these three legislators to be sworn in. In response, on Tuesday, the National Assembly President, Henry Ramos Allup, was forced to suspend the legislative session as the house lacked the necessary quorum following the refusal of the PSUV to take their seats.

A serious political crisis appeared to be brewing, which would only add to the country’s economic and social woes.

The political stand-off ended yesterday when the three opposition legislators in question, Julio Haron Ygarza, Nirma Guarulla and Romel Guzamana, agreed to give up their seats while investigations into the alleged electoral irregularities continue.

As it stands, MUD now only has 109 active seats, a 65 per cent majority and just short of the two thirds supermajority. Although an imminent crisis has been averted, I suspect that this will most likely not be the end of conflict between Maduro’s government and the opposition-controlled house.

[1] For a great analysis of the recent elections, which highlights the role of the electoral system change, have a look at John Carey’s Monkey Page post here.

Venezuela – Nicolás Maduro Begins the New Year with a Cabinet Reshuffle

For many, the New Year represents an opportunity for change. For Nicolás Maduro, the somewhat embattled President of Venezuela, the beginning of 2014 has ushered in a cabinet reshuffle and a reorganization of the nation’s economic management.

On Wednesday January 15th, Maduro, in his first state of the union speech, addressed the national assembly and presented his annual government report. As part of this speech, Maduro laid out his major initiatives for the year. All in all, these initiatives signaled quite a degree of organizational change in both his government and strategy of economic governance.

To begin, he announced the reorganization of his cabinet. José Khan will become the Minister of Commerce, while the Public Banking Ministry and the Ministry of Finance will be merged. Rodolfo Marco Torres, the current Minister of Public Banking, will assume this new expanded portfolio and replace Nelson Merentes as Finance minister. Although Merentes will now be the head of the Central Bank, many see the appointment of Torres, an army general who was part of Hugo Chávez’s attempted coup of 1992, as a clear indication that Maduro is set upon deepening the socialist revolution begun by his predecessor, given Torres is deemed something of an ideologue in comparison to the more pragmatic Merentes.

As part of the realignment of his economic team, Maduro also announced a series of economic reforms aimed at addressing some of the more serious underlying flaws in the Venezuelan economy. These reforms include a strengthening of government control over the national currency, the bolívar. The Foreign Exchange Administration Commission (Cadivi) is to be disbanded and its responsibilities assumed by the National Foreign Trade Corporation (which will now be run by Alejandro Fleming), while the official exchange rate has been set at 6.3 bolívars to 1 US dollar, for the entirety of 2014. Although this was not the currency devaluation expected by economists, given the widening fiscal deficit, the Financial Times has suggested it represents “devaluation by stealth,” as the foreign exchange auction system (Sicad), where the Central Bank sells US dollars, is to be significantly expanded.

Finally, both to further bolster the government’s reforms, and to combat an inflation rate hovering around 54 per cent, Maduro announced the establishment of a 30 per cent ceiling on profits for all businesses, which will be part of the new Law on Costs and Fair Prices.

However, it isn’t all change in Maduro’s Venezuela. Rafael Ramírez will remain as vice-president of the government’s economic cabinet, energy minister and president of the state-run oil company, PDVSA.

Venezuela – Nicolás Maduro Seeks Decree Power from the National Assembly

Last Tuesday October 8th, President Nicolás Maduro asked the National Assembly to pass the “Enabling Law,” a piece of legislation, which would grant him decree power for 12 months in order to deal with corruption and ‘economic sabotage.’ This would give President Maduro the ability to fast track certain pieces of legislation and to pass others without congressional approval.

In a three-hour speech to the National Assembly, Maduro stressed his intention was to use this power to fight corruption within Venezuela, and even within his own party.

The opposition accused Maduro of attempting to increase his own power, and sideline a strengthening opposition. Decree power would most likely be very welcome for Maduro, both in order to sideline potential internal dissent from within his own bloc and to deal with spiraling inflation. In September, inflation peaked at 49.4 per cent, a jump of nearly 25 per cent since Hugo Chávez, Maduro’s predecessor, died in March. Maduro has struggled to deal with the increasing instability of prices, and this has affected his popularity. Although Maduro has suggested this enabling legislation will allow him to tackle ‘economic sabotage’, there is a lack of concrete specifics regarding what exact policies would be covered by this power.

Of course, this is not the first time that a Venezuelan President, nor indeed a Latin American president, has requested such ‘delegated powers’ from the legislature. Hugo Chávez was granted the power to rule by decree a total of four times, and used this power to enact nearly 200 legal changes, which allowed him to increase the presence of the state in the national economy. In Argentina in 1989, Carlos Menem was also delegated authority by the legislature to rule by decree in order to address the crippling hyperinflation that was plaguing the economy. Likewise, also in Argentina, Néstor Kirchner was delegated similar authority. This lack of legislative oversight, or horizontal accountability, became so widespread that the famous Argentine political scientist, Guillermo O’Donnell (1936-2011), characterized these weakly institutionalized Latin American democracies as ‘delegative democracies.’[1]

It remains to be seen whether the assembly will pass the enabling law. Maduro needs 60 per cent of the assembly votes, or 99 seats. Together with his own bloc, the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), the Patria Para Todos (PPT) and Chavista-minded independents, Maduro should be able to guarantee 98 seats. He just needs to find one more legislator.

Discussions in the house will begin next week.

[1] O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1994. “Delegative Democracy,” Journal of Democracy, 5(1), pp. 55-69. Although in recent years, the analytical utility of this concept has been called into question.