I have written a lot recently about the situation in Venezuela. There are recurrent shortages of goods in supermarkets across the country, and inflation continues to rise, unabated. The capacity of the state is slowly crumbling, epitomized by rising infant mortality and malaria cases. With oil prices far from the highs of the mid-2000s, investment in the state oil company PDVSA, mooted to come from Russia, is a political and economic necessity. Given this context, political capital has been hard to generate, and since taking office, in response to weakening support, the successor of the late Hugo Chávez, President Nicolás Maduro, has increasingly adopted authoritarian tactics to quell and suppress opposition movements and parties.
Part of Maduro’s authoritarian turn can be explained by Venezuela’s current experience of divided government. In the last legislative elections in December 2015, President Maduro and his Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV), and his electoral coalition, the Gran Polo Patriótico (GPP), lost their majority in Congress to the opposition alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). As I have discussed previously on this blog, although the opposition won enough seats for the all-important two thirds majority, some political machinations managed to prevent the super-majority taking all of their seats. The Supreme Court 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, revolving around accusations of vote buying. To prevent the escalation of another political crisis, in January 2016, 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 executive and legislative branch are now engaged in nothing short of open war. Although the opposition don’t have the magic two thirds majority, they have placed persistent pressure on President Maduro. In turn, Maduro has found an ally in the Supreme Court, which has struck down a number of the opposition initiatives. Two months ago, President Maduro issued a decree to establish a constitutional assembly, or constituyente in order to transform the institutional structure of the Venezuelan state.
This move sent the opposition into overdrive and sparked a wave of street protests and international condemnation. Street protests have become a near daily occurrence, both in opposition to, and in support of, the Maduro regime and over the last months, we have seen a steady stream of fatalities as police clash with protestors.
Now it seems as if the crisis is moving to the next level. Yesterday, approximately 100 government supporters stormed the opposition-controlled National Assembly, where they attacked and beat up a number of opposition legislators. A crowd had been gathering for a number of hours outside the Assembly, and following a session to mark the country’s independence day, and a speech from vice-President Tareck El Aissami, urging a new constitution to end the last vestiges of empire, the crowd attacked the building and kept roughly 350 people hostage for nearly four hours.
All of this came amid a video last week that purportedly showed a police helicopter attacking the interior ministry and the government-backed Supreme Court. The helicopter was apparently piloted by Oscar Pérez, a former member of Venezuela’s intelligence services. The Maduro regime are claiming that Pérez received support and backing from the CIA.
It has been asserted that the executive-legislative deadlock in Venezuela is living proof of Juan Linz’s direst predictions. Regardless of what the truth actually is, and the support that Pérez and his group have, one thing is for sure: things in Venezuela are only going to get worse.