Venezuela is in full-blown crisis mode, says analyst Rodrigo Linares.
“But what makes the current conflict so sad is that it could have easily have been avoided if minimal spaces for dialogue between opponents had been safeguarded. The crisis, it seems, is institutional,” he writes for the New Republic:
The key shortcoming of a presidential system is the overload of legitimacy on a single human being and his or her agenda. Take this example: a president that gets elected by a narrow margin, say by 1.49 points. In this example 20 percent of the voters abstain. That 50.61 percent (out of the 80 percent that voted) who elected the president did so because they favor something like 75 percent of his agenda, while the others that didn’t vote for him, supported only a fraction of that. And yet, the president feels he can legitimately push 100 percent of his agenda. (This post originally appeared on Caracas Chronicles.)
Polarization is a touchstone of Venezuelan politics, which was bitterly divided during the 14-year presidency of Mr. Chávez, Mr. Maduro’s mentor, William Neuman writes for the New York Times:
But while Mr. Chávez would excoriate and punish opponents, he had keen political instincts and often seemed to know when to back off just enough to keep things from boiling over. Now Mr. Maduro, his chosen successor, who is less charismatic and is struggling to contend with a deeply troubled economy, has taken a hard line on expressions of discontent, squeezing the news media, arresting a prominent opposition politician and sending the National Guard into residential areas to quash the protests.
The challenge now is to mold the great indignation of the last few weeks into a coherent, nimble, organized political organization able to stand up for all Venezuelans’ basic rights, analyst Francisco Toro writes for the Times:
Henrique Capriles (right), the leader of Venezuela’s moderate opposition, has made his pitch. In a speech to a large rally in Caracas last Saturday, Mr. Capriles, flanked by high-profile student leaders, made an impassioned call for an end to nighttime protests, roadblocks and other tactics liable to court violence. Few outside the rally heard him, however, because government pressure ensured that no broadcast media carried coverage of the event: one more reason to believe the government is invested in a strategy of escalation.
Hugo Chávez was never shy about goading the opposition into a fight, says Toro, founder of the Caracas Chronicles:
He understood that confrontation was the best way to rally his hard-core supporters while consolidating autocratic control over society. Mr. Maduro, his chosen successor, certainly absorbed that lesson.
But Mr. Chávez also had an instinctive feel for the limits of such tactics and never engaged in repression on this scale. It’s that politician’s grasp of the pitfalls of going too far, too fast that seems lacking in Mr. Maduro.
In an interview filmed shortly before the Venezuelan government began a violent crackdown against peaceful opposition protesters on February 12, 2014, Christopher Walker met with Forum Research Council Member Javier Corrales to discuss signs of increasing authoritarianism in Venezuela under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro. In this interview, Dr. Corrales outlines the mechanisms that Maduro uses to maintain loyalty in the ruling coalition and repress the opposition. In addition, Dr. Corrales explains how Venezuela has sought to exert influence in Latin America and why it seeks to build relationships with other authoritarian regimes around the world, first under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and now under Maduro.
Dr. Javier Corrales is professor of political science at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. He obtained his Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University. He is the co-author (with Carlos A. Romero) of U.S.-Venezuela Relations since the 1990s: Coping with Midlevel Security Threats (Routledge, 2013) and (with Michael Penfold) of Dragon in the Tropics: Hugo Chávez and the Political Economy of Revolution in Venezuela (Brookings Institution Press, 2011). He is also working on a book manuscript on constitutional reforms in Latin America.
Download “Latin America’s Authoritarian Drift: The Threat from the Populist Left” [PDF] and listen to the Journal of Democracy podcast with author Kurt Weyland, from the July 2013 issue.
Watch video from the Forum’s discussion of “Latin America’s Changing Political Landscape” in February 2011 featuring Javier Corrales, based on a cluster of articles published in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of Democracy.