By Jackson Mabe
After years of boiling turmoil over the opposing agendas of population and government, the Venezuelan presidential crisis seems to have reached a crescendo as Juan Guaidó directly pitted himself against the controversial Nicolás Maduro by swearing himself in as an interim president. Many other outside nations have thrown their support to one side or the other, with both political figures garnering considerable opposing recognitions, notably including the United States and Russia.
Nicolás Maduro has certainly held power in an eventful era in Venezuela’s history. His political career officially dates back to 1998 when the Caracas native was elected to the Venezuelan Chamber of Deputies. After a streak of appointments to the National Constituent Assembly, the National Assembly, and then a time spent as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Maduro became the vice president under close friend Hugo Chávez in 2012, and assumed control of the presidency himself after Chávez’s death from illness in 2013. His term has since been associated with corruption and the degradation of the country of Venezuela as a whole, sometimes at his own benefit.
Venezuela has recently been consumed by a horrid humanitarian crisis that has led to economic devastation and declining health conditions and safety. Of course, in an effort to prevent foreign interference and maintain control over Venezuela’s 31 million, criticisms and observations of these conditions have been dismissed as false by Maduro and government-distributed propaganda promotes an image of prosperity and contentedness, but little detective work is necessary to find the continually-worsening situation that the population finds itself in. One of the biggest factors in this heartbreaking downturn for the Venezuelan people is the hyperinflation seen today on a scale not unlike that of the crippled Germany in the wake of World War 1; Bloomberg’s Cafe con Leche Index says that the price of a cup of coffee has risen from 100 bolivars to 1400 in the span of the last three months, and the past year has yielded a total annual inflation rate of more than 300,000%. Tragically, this ridiculous amount of turmoil on the Venezuelan economy has made necessities like food completely unaffordable, and millions have fled the country to greener pastures, destabilizing the entire region.
Despite the events under his watch that have left him unpopular, to say the least, in the eyes of many of Venezuela’s rapidly emigrating populace, Maduro has remained in power for several reasons. One of his tactics is the age-old method of imprisoning his political rivals, as was done to Leopoldo López, the former leader of Guaidó’s party, after his history of organizing protests. Maduro also created a new branch of government to rewrite the Venezuelan Constitution to adapt and conform to his own agenda, and has maintained the allegiance of the military by financially supporting several figureheads of the national armed forces. Most questionable recently, however, are the circumstances surrounding Maduro’s apparent reelection in May of last year. Aside from the illegitimacy stemming from Maduro’s rivals being barred from election, the regime’s opponents argue that the voting numbers claimed by election officials are false. Although droves of the population didn’t vote in boycott of the president’s reign, official reports claim a 50% voter turnout.
It is this questionable election process that prompted the actions of Juan Guaidó in the days both leading up to and following January 10th of 2019, the day of Maduro’s official inauguration for his new term. According to the Venezuelan Constitution, presidential power passes to the President of the National Assembly in the event of an absent president. As it happens, that position is currently occupied by Guaidó; as a longtime critic and protester of the Maduro regime, the rigged election was grounds to declare that the office of president was legally vacant. Consequently, on January 23rd, Gaudió officially swore himself in as Venezuela’s interim president until a true democratic election can be held to allow the citizens of Venezuela to select their head executive officer. Immediately following Gaudió’s self-claim to the office, several western countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, and several other central and South American countries have indicated their support and recognition of Gaudió’s legitimacy as president. On the other side, Maduro’s supporters include Mexico, China, Cuba, Bolivia, and Russia. France’s Emmanuel Macron didn’t throw their allegiance to any one side, but advised democratic election immediately.
The practice of the United States and Russia taking opposing stances over conflicts in smaller countries is eerily reminiscent of the Cold War; let’s hope that the two rivals can put their differences aside long enough to ensure the security and safety of Venezuela’s citizens and their livelihood.