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Venezuela - The Crisis of 2017

The National Socialist Party had ruled Venezuela for 17 years. Economic pressures mounted in recent years, especially since the price of oil – Venezuela's chief export – began falling in 2014. Venezuelans face chronic, severe shortages of food, medicine and other basics in what once was Latin America's wealthiest country.

Since taking office in 2013, Maduro and the Bolivarian Revolution faced non-stop attacks from Venezuela’s U.S.-backed right-wing opposition, making advancements difficult. Improving upon destabilization tactics used during Chavez’s administration, the opposition seemed to have perfected the art of sabotage.

Despite right-wing sabotage, Maduro’s government lived up to its promise to continue improving living conditions for Venezuela’s poor and oppressed. Under his administration, Venezuela expanded its free health care coverage to more than 60 percent of the population, according to the country’s Ministry of People's Power for Health. The Venezuelan president has also made free health care available to people in historically impoverished departments like Amazonas, Bolivar and Delta Amacuro.

Public housing for all Venezuelans has also been a mantra of Maduro’s administration. In January 2017, he announced that his government reached its goal of delivering 1,400,000 homes to Venezuelans across the country. The public housing program is either free or low of cost, depending on the family's means. Venezuela currently has the second lowest rate of homelessness in Latin America, with only 6.68 percent of its population being unhoused.

Maduro, who actively supported Venezuela’s student movement against neoliberalism during the 1980s, has made important strides in public education since coming to power. The Venezuelan president has significantly grown the country’s Canaima program, a computer literacy and technology education campaign established by Chavez in 2009. Maduro’s administration has provided more than 4,800,000 computers and over 100 million technology textbooks to students across the country.

Maduro also made tremendous advancements in improving the representation and civil rights of historically oppressed sectors of Venezuelan society, like women, Afro-Indigenous people and the LGBTQ community.

Intense street demonstrations have roiled Venezuela's capital and other cities almost daily since early April 2017, with protesters demanding that Maduro release political prisoners, schedule long-overdue elections and open access to humanitarian aid to offset severe shortages of food, medicine and other basic goods.

Opposition leaders called on to their supporters “to shake up the country” and reject the invoking of a National Constituent Assembly, a measure that President Nicolas Maduro announced on May Day in a bid to appease social tensions in the country. Julio Borges, president of the National Assembly, called President Maduro's move a “coup d'Etat” and called “everyone” to take to the streets tomorrow in order “to shake up the country.”

With Venezuela's capital girding for massive demonstrations, President Nicolás Maduro accused the United States April 19, 2017 of trying to overthrow his leftist government. In an address from the national palace in Caracas, Maduro complained of "a State Department push" to "provoke an imperialist intervention" in the South American country, with pro- and anti-government demonstrations as a backdrop.

At a press conference called by the opposition Democratic Unity Roundtable coalition, Henrique Capriles a representative of the Justice First party said that one of the fundamental requirements for the opposition to abandon street protests is for the democratically-elected government of Maduro to schedule general elections despite the fact the Maduro's term does not end until 2019 and that it runs contrary to what is established in the country's constitution.

Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami indicated that the opposition is trying to depict Venezuela as a country in chaos to justify foreign intervention. "We know there are groups interested in selling the world a country in chaos, Henrique Capriles has said in an irresponsible manner that the government is guilty of these deaths and therefore will have to prove these serious allegations in court."

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced the implementation of a "special plan" dubbed Zamora against an alleged coup in the country. "I have decided to launch strategic, special, civil and military plan to ensure the functioning of our country, its security, internal order and social integrity," Maduro said. He added that the current phase of the plan was directed against reported activities of the United States in order to "cope with a coup, escalation of violence and to ensure peace in Venezuela." According to Maduro, the US Department of State had ordered to "attack" the Venezuelan revolution and institutions in order to approve "an imperialistic intervention."

Venezuela's center-right opposition organized "the mother of all marches" to protest Maduro's administration, and the Venezuelan leader rallied his supporters to turn out for a counter-march. He ordered military troops to fan out across the country and announced plans to vastly expand the country's civilian militia – to half a million members from its current 100,000.

The turbulence erupted after the Venezuelan Supreme Court's March 30 announcement that it would strip the opposition-controlled National Assembly of its legislative powers. The court – stacked with appointees of Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez – reversed its position in the wake of domestic and international outcries about an attempted power grab.

Referenda

A dry run vote 16 July 2017 for the National Constituent Assembly coincided with a symbolic referendum called by the opposition which asked people to vote whether they want a constituent assembly or not; whether they want the armed forces to support the existing constitution and the decisions of the national assembly; and whether they want immediate general elections. Opposition leaders claimed that more than 7 million Venezuelans participated, 98 percent of whom opposed the assembly, but short of the 11 million they had hoped for in a country of just under 20 million eligible voters.

President Nicolas Maduro described the event as the "biggest and most impactful dry run of all dry runs that have taken place in the last 18 years". Calling it "a hymn to peace," Maduro said the people of Venezuela through their extensive participation in the constituent electoral process have shown that the way to solve the country's problems is through peace and urged the opposition to dialogue instead of violence.

Instead of denouncing rightwing violence that aims at regime change, many on the U.S. left have stayed silent, or opted to give an evenhanded analysis that supports neither the Maduro government nor the oligarchy trying to violently overthrow it. Rather, the left prioritizes its energy on lecturing on Maduro’s “authoritarianism” and the failures of “Chavismo.” Posters of Chavez remain in the homes of Venezuela’s poorest barrios because he proved in action that he was a champion for the poor, while fighting and winning many pitched battles against the oligarchy who wildly celebrated his death. There remains a mass movement of revolutionaries in Venezuela dedicated to Chavismo and to defending Maduro’s government against the violent anti-regime tactics.

The oligarchy has not accepted the balance of power that Chavez-Maduro have tilted in favor of the working class. A new social contract has not been cemented; it is being actively fought for in the streets. Maduro has made some concessions to the oligarchy it’s true, but they have not been fundamental concessions, while he’s left the fundamental victories of the revolution intact.

Venezuelans headed to the polls 30 July 2017 to elect representatives for the National Constituent Assembly, an initiative from President Nicolas Maduro to further develop the country's democracy and to help ease tensions with the opposition. Maduro presented the National Electoral Council, with his proposal for structuring the electoral bases through which constituent representatives will be elected. This will open the way for 540 constituent parliamentarians to be elected by the Venezuelan people in a manner that is "direct, secret, universal, territorial and sectoral."

More than 30 representatives of Indigenous communities in Venezuela had been nominated as candidates for the National Constituent Assembly. Women throughout Venezuela met to debate new proposals for the constitutional process. The Revolutionary Sex and Gender Diversity Alliance, an organization across Venezuelan national territory, came together to collectively design an initial set of proposals to participate in what militant María Helena Ramírez Hernández calls “a new stage of the Bolivarian Revolution that seeks to overcome fascism, hate and terrorism financed by the US Government and carried out by the opposition in Venezuela.”

High-profile opposition leaders fired back against President Nicolas Maduro, rejecting the process and calling for a "full rebellion" against the government. Head of the right-wing opposition-controlled National Assembly, Julio Borges, echoed Lopez’s called for an escalation of protests, citing the opposition's continued rejection of the Constituent Assembly, called by Maduro to promote dialogue. “The call is that we continue in absolute rebellion (against) the Constituent Assembly ... because the country unanimously rejects the communist Constituent Assembly," he stated.

The president of the National Electoral Council Tibisay Lucena has announced that turnout in Venezuela's historic National Constituent Assembly was over 41 percent, indicating that over 8 million people voted in the elections, in a country of just under 20 million eligible voters. The voting process was peaceful with the exception of a few isolated incidents of violence as opposition supporters protested and staged guarimbas in a bid to shut down the election.

The opposition said the unpopular measure would result in a socialist dictatorship and had called on Venezuelans to boycott the vote. Dozens of polling places in Caracas, the capital, were empty. Members of the opposition estimate only two to three million people voted. Polls show more than 70 percent of Venezuelans oppose the assembly.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported 8 August 2017 on widespread and systematic use of excessive force and arbitrary detentions against demonstrators in Venezuela. The team’s findings also indicate patterns of other human rights violations, including violent house raids, torture and ill-treatment of those detained in connection with the protests. Security forces, mainly the National Guard, the National Police and local police forces, systematically used disproportionate force to instil fear, crush dissent, and to prevent demonstrators from assembling, rallying and reaching public institutions to present petitions.

According to the UN Human Rights team’s analysis, security forces are allegedly responsible for at least 46 deaths, while pro-Government armed groups, referred to as “armed colectivos” are reportedly responsible for 27 deaths. It is unclear who the perpetrators in the remaining 51 deaths may be. Some groups of demonstrators have also resorted to violence, with attacks reported against security officers. Eight officers have been killed in the context of the demonstrations.

The Attorney-General’s Office was also investigating at least 1,958 reported cases of injuries, although the actual number of people injured may be considerably higher. Armed colectivos routinely break into protests on motorcycles, wielding firearms and harassing or in some cases shooting at people.

Reliable estimates suggest that between April 1, when the mass demonstrations began, and 31 July, more than 5,051 people have been arbitrarily detained. More than 1,000 reportedly remain in detention. In several of the cases reviewed by the UN Human Rights Office, there were credible reports of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by security forces of such detainees, amounting in several cases to torture. Tactics used included electric shocks, beatings, including with helmets and sticks while handcuffed, hanging detainees by the wrists for long periods, suffocation with gas, and threats of killings – and in some cases threats of sexual violence – against the detainees or their families.

Local Voting

Venezuela's election board said the ruling party won a majority of state governorships in elections 15 October 2017. But opposition parties cried foul. Gubernatorial races were held in the nation's 23 states at a time of growing opposition to President Nicolas Maduro. The National Electoral Council announced the results for all but one state, where vote-counting was still going on. It said the socialist ruling party had won 17 states, while the opposition coalition took 5. It said 61 percent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Maduro declared victory at a news conference following the announcement. He said Venezuela has grown stronger, as truth has prevailed in the country. The opposition coalition told reporters that it would not recognize the results announced by the electoral council because they suspect the elections were rigged. It said the pro-government election board relocated more than 200 polling stations shortly before voting began.

Nationally, Chavismo received 54 percent of the total vote, reestablishing the pattern for other more prominent elections to public office. For their part, the MUD won 45 percent of the votes. The MUD dropped almost 3 million votes in comparison with their best ever result in the parliamentary elections of 2015 of more than 7 million votes.

Historically pro-opposition states like Lara, Miranda y Amazonas, usually opposition trampolines in maneuvers for Presidential elections, were won by Chavista candidates by a good margin. From the perspective of governorships supposedly serving as an alternative political model to Chavismo, in effect the MUD opposition yesterday lost three states crucial to their presidential aspirations. Opposition leaders like Henri Falcon and Henrique Capriles have lost ground and now lack a power base from which to launch more important political campaigns.

Venezuela's opposition faced a deep political crisis as fractures within the coalition have emerged following the surprise loss in this month's regional elections. Four out of five opposition governors in Venezuela accepted their elected posts last week in defiance of the opposition Democratic Unity Coalition (MUD). The four opposition politicians broke with the official MUD line when they chose to acknowledge the National Constituent Assembly, which is aligned with President Maduro's party, and be sworn in as governors.

While more radical sectors led by the Popular Will party claimed fraud so as to legitimize themselves to their supporters and make themselves look more credible to interventionist forces overseas, so-called moderates like Democratic Action, the New Time and the Progressive Advance parties, among others, are taking advantage of the governorships they won to position themselves for opposition leadership in future elections.

These regional elections took place after having been preceded by a cycle of violence promoted by anti-Chavista forces both inside and outside Venezuela. After four months of violence from April to July and efforts by Venezuela’s political opposition to boycott the elections to the National Constituent Assembly at the end of July, Chavismo’s forces managed to turn the conflict to an electoral one. The narrative that a “dictatorship” exists in Venezuela was undone by the United Democratic Table (MUD) opposition alliance’s participation in these regional elections.

The still fresh images of the violence and terrorism that almost sunk Venezuela into chaos between April and July, leaving over 100 people dead, created an electoral climate outside committed opposition followers unfavorable for the MUD in terms of electoral support. The MUD’s failure to bring about the overthrow of the government strengthened perceptions of Chavismo as representing order and stability. In times of stress, insecurity about the future and continuing turbulence those perceptions attracted support among the population.

Candidates for Venezuela's Socialist Party took 23 of 24 state capitals as well as the governorship for the state of Zulia, election authorities announced 10 December 2017. National Electoral Council [CNE] officials presented partial results for the capitals of the 23 states as well as Caracas, with candidates for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) taking all but the top mayor position in Tachira state. Omar Prieto of the PSUV also won the governorship for the state of Zulia, leaving the PSUV in all but four of the country's 23 states.

Three of the coalition's main parties - Popular Will, Justice First and Democratic Action - boycotted Sunday's polls, saying the election board was at the service of Maduro's "dictatorship" and turning a blind eye to abuses by the state. Maduro said the three abstaining parties would be banned from participating in future elections. But other opposition parties did put up candidates, adding to confusion and acrimony within opposition ranks.




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