On May 1st (Venezuelan time), at dawn.
Juan Guaido, leader of the opposition, rallied his supporters at dawn and on a video shared over social media. Calling to action all his supporters and members of the civil service, including the police and armed forces, in short, a Coup d’etat.
What ensued was a violent clash with video’s depicting the violence
But how did this happen? How is this still happening today?
A glance at international news and it’s easy to find articles on the Venezuelan crisis. Reports on the ever-growing food shortages, electricity blackouts, water crisis and violent protests are the key headlines.
This state of emergency wasn’t always the case. Up until 2014, the country had issues, but their public programs were still working.
The year 2014 is also the year that the current president, Nicolás Maduro, got elected. Since then the country spiralled out of control, and many naturally started to blame him. While Maduro’s current regime faces the disdain of leading nations, he wasn’t what caused the problem.
Enter Hugo Chavez and his socialist revolution.
Hugo Chavez’s first attempt at power was not by democratic means. He initially tried a coup d’etat in 1992 which failed. After two years he was pardoned and through a democratic means, rose to power on the promise that he would redistribute the wealth to the poorest in Venezuela.
Once elected, he nationalised more and more industries under the guise that the government would manage these corporations more reasonably than their capitalist leaders.
During the time of Chavez’s terms, oil prices kept going up. Since Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, its export of it continued to bring more wealth. Chavez used this wealth to fund expensive programmes that brought many people out of poverty. The poorest rallied to him, and because of this, the number of people who weren’t so sure about him dwindled, with those who criticised, described as dissenters.
Venezuela’s GDP eventually became 50% coming from oil export alone.
As the years go by Chavez consolidates power through socialist style programs.
It wasn’t long before the socialist populist became the socialist authoritarian with measures like:
- Elevating his friends to high ranking officials in military positions,
- the same high ranking friends would then be placed in key leadership positions of the countries oil exports,
- passed laws to restrict what the media could say
But Chavez had limits to his authoritarianism; he still held democratic elections. With a combination of:
- friends in the state media
- using state funds for his campaign
- having in place a ban on criticising his government.
He just kept winning elections. And how could he not, the price of oil continued to skyrocket, and more money kept pouring into the government which continued to pour into welfare programmes, more jobs, healthcare, education. Everyone was happy as long as the price of oil continued to surge. Then in 2013, Hugo Chavez dies in office, and Nicholas Maduro replaces him since he is the vice-president. Chavez had already named Maduro as his successor, and Maduro believed he just had to continue off where his mentor left.
In January 2015, the price of oil plummeted by 49.5%.
Welfare programmes are the sole source of sustenance for many Venezuelans, so the funds were draining quickly.
The first step they took to try and keep it all going was to introduce tariffs on foreign goods; this they believed would also provide a boost to local business. The only problem was that nobody was investing in Venezuela because if a company started doing well, the government nationalised it.
There wasn’t enough local production to cater to the country’s demand, and so the price on many necessities skyrocketed. The International Monetary Fund warned that what they now call a Hyper Inflation will hit a rate of 1,000,000 %( that’s 1 million per cent) whereas the average inflation rate of North America or Europe was only 2.2%.
The country depended on external sources which their government taxed to help sustain welfare. Regrettably, this created a cycle that eventually had only one outlet, and that was outside Venezuela’s economy. Venezuela is so dependent on its social welfare programmes that it’s economy has been compared to Zimbabwe after the crises of the early 2000s or Weinbar Germany after World War 1, all this in just a few decades.
Juan Guaido’s coup failed, however, can we consider the past few decades as an example of how easy it is for a country to go from hardcore socialism to authoritarianism?