Tag Archive | "Hugo Chavez"

Caracas Dystopia

Venezuela in Crisis: A Socialist Dystopia

Caracas Dystopia

Photo Credit: Federico Parra |AFP | Getty Images

City-wide protests have occurred daily throughout Venezuela, a politically divided and economically destitute country, which was once South America’s wealthiest nation. Police meet protesters with rampant arrests, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Since the beginning of April, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have protested President Nicolás Maduro’s socialist government and its perpetration of the nation’s ever-worsening economic crisis. Initially comprised of students, youth, and members of the middle class, the opposition movement’s base grows daily. As the quality of life in Venezuela continues to spiral, the opposition increasingly gains support from those once faithful to the socialist agenda, the lower class. The sustained global drop in oil prices and prolonged drought have only worsened matters for the public, who struggle daily to obtain essentials like food and medicine. Protesters demand new elections and release of political prisoners, hoping that a change in the socialist leadership will end the crisis.

Since the mid-20th century, petroleum extraction and exploitation have been the foundation of Venezuela’s economic structure. The Venezuela of the 1950s was poised to be a major player in international petroleum exportation; intent on sembrando el petróleo (sowing the oil), the nation relied on its massive oil wealth to advance society. To maximize oil exports, investors financed alternative energy production for domestic servicing. Most notably, the Guri Dam generates 60% of Venezuela’s energy through hydroelectric power.

In the early 2000s, the late president Hugo Chávez leveraged Venezuela’s massive oil wealth and the global upswing in oil prices to create an unsustainable social welfare state. He implemented sweeping nationalization of Venezuela’s economy, primarily in the oil sector, in pursuit of his socialist utopia. Chávez expanded the state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, or PDVSA, and its dominion over oil extraction and production. Chávez’s frenetic charisma, combined with frequent government handouts, projected an image of resolute national prosperity while masking the regime’s internal corruption. Many Chavistas still await the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that Chávez promised.

Maduro, Chávez’s successor, inherited an economy wholly propped up by the nationalized oil industry. Maduro’s financial mismanagement and authoritarian actions set the nation on a fast-track toward recession, even prior to the 2014 collapse of global oil prices. Domestic oil production is dropping at an accelerated rate, with drilling sites and refineries falling into disrepair. The government and PDVSA are strapped with nearly $60 billion in international debt in the form of short-term bond payments. Meanwhile, the government is failing to import food, medicine, and other essentials at a sufficient rate to meet the dire demand. With inflation rates just over 800%, most Venezuelans are unable to afford food and many report significant weight loss. Waiting hours on end for food rations at government controlled food-distribution centers is an every-day reality. Additionally, the Guri Dam is largely out of commission due to a prolonged drought and the government imposed a two-day workweek to cope with frequent power outages. Venezuela’s economy is in abysmal shape and the prospects of a positive change are wholly dependent upon an upswing in global oil prices.

A highly controversial supreme court ruling sparked the most recent round of protests in Venezuela. The nation’s supreme court is notoriously beholden to Maduro and the socialist regime established by Chávez. Meanwhile, the opposition-controlled National Assembly represents the sole counter to the United Socialist Party’s total control over the government. On March 31, 2017 Venezuela’s supreme court stripped the National Assembly of its legislative, justifying this power-grab by holding the National Assembly in contempt of the laws of the nation. Three members of the National Assembly face accusations, by President Maduro, of administrative impropriety in winning their elections, thus enabling the supreme court to hold the entire legislature in contempt. The supreme court was set to take over all responsibilities and functions of the legislature. Domestic and international condemnation were quick to criticize this decision, a move that many considered “a rupture in the constitutional order” and Maduro’s attempt to create a “petty dictatorship.” In the face of such scrutiny, the supreme court rolled back some of its decision on April 1, however, President Maduro retains unfettered power “to enter into joint oil ventures without congressional approval.” One faction of the opposition considers the rollback further proof that the supreme court is in Maduro’s pocket, while others believe it reveals cracks within the USP’s party-loyalists.

Food scarcity and undemocratic power grabs will be determinative of Maduro’s power retention in 2017. Those loyal to Chávez’s socialist revolution grow disillusioned by the day as they face food shortages and soaring inflation with no prospect of change. Maduro’s regime faces international, regional, and domestic pressures to abide by Venezuela’s constitutionally democratic roots. The call for new elections intensifies as the opposition’s support increases and the nation’s economic crisis worsens. A newly elected official, however, will have to confront the economy’s strict oil dependence and determine how the nation can diversify to succeed in the 21st century. Regardless of any political changes, without an upswing in global oil prices, the crisis will only worsen, violating international human rights norms in the process.

Rachel Ronca is a Staff Editor with the Denver Journal for International Law & Policy, and a 2L at the Sturm College of Law.

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Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Post Chávez Venezuela: The End of “21st Century Socialism” or Just New Management?

Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Venezuela Vice President Nicolas Maduro cheers a portrait of Chavez. (NBC Latino)

Venezuela’s controversial President Hugo Chávez died on March 5, 2013, after struggling with cancer since June 2011.  As Venezuela prepares for the presidential election that is scheduled for April 14th, many wonder how Chávez’s death will impact Venezuela’s place in the international community.  Chávez was a polarizing figure with enthusiastic supporters, and equally enthusiastic critics, both at home and abroad.  The outcome of the April election will determine whether Chávez’s controversial policies will live on without him.

Chávez described his style of governance as 21st Century Socialism, and a common theme of Chávez-rhetoric involved condemnation of western capitalism. Other Latin American countries elected similar far-left leaders, who Chávez showed support by providing their countries with Venezuelan aid.  The general socialist trajectory of many Latin American governments has been a reaction to unsuccessful neo-liberal policies from the past. However, the future of Chávez’s international social programs—such as the oil-for-doctors exchanges with Cuba—depends on who wins the presidential election in April.

Chávez’s popular domestic support is commonly attributed to the vast social programs enacted for the benefit of Venezuela’s poor.  Chávez’s government created state run cooperatives, and established programs to improve literacy, health, and access to food.  Chávez received support for several significant constitutional amendments which passed by popular vote and this support is commonly attributed to his social programs.  During Chávez’s presidency, there was a “sharp drop” in economic inequality in Venezuela, as measured with the Gini index.  Despite such positive indicators, the day-to-day experience for Venezuelans may not have been significantly improved.  Programs have not always lived up to Chávez’s description: subsidized grocery stores have been plagued by shortages of basic goods “like milk, meat and toilet paper.”

Chávez’s treatment of Venezuela’s oil industry is a common topic of international criticism.  Venezuela enjoys the largest reserves of crude oil in the world.  Chávez’s socialist policies were costly, and Chávez needed oil profits to fund his welfare programs.  In 2006, Chávez began nationalizing oil projects run by multinational oil companies in the oil-rich Cerro Negro area of the Orinoco Oil Belt.  These nationalizations led to multiple cases of protracted international commercial arbitration brought before the ICSID and ICC by Conoco-Philips and Exxon-Mobil and others.  After a series of challenges to nationalizations in various industries, Venezuela withdrew from the ICSID Convention to avoid being subjected to further ICSID arbitrations.  The cases involving Exxon-Mobil produced significant hostility. Chávez defended his nationalization of the Cerro Negro project, saying Exxon had been stealing from Venezuela and “we won’t give in to imperialism.”  Now the Venezuelan oil industry suffers from diminished production capabilities because of failure to reinvest profits in infrastructure and loss of technological advances after alienating foreign direct investment.

Chávez was perceived as a hero or a villain.  Chávez’s presidency was criticized for media censorship and interference with the judiciary.  The Human Rights Watch found that the Chávez regime filed criminal complaints against internationally funded NGOs, outspoken journalists and politicians.  However, a variety of public figures embraced Chávez: Rev. Jesse Jackson celebrated Chávez in eulogy saying “Hugo fed the hungry. He lifted the poor. He raised their hopes. He helped them realize their dreams.”

Whether Chávez’s policies will be continued depends in large part on whether Nicolas Maduro—Chávez’s appointed political heir—or Henrique Capriles—the opposition leader—is elected in April.  Henrique Capriles won 45% of the popular vote in the October elections; Capriles was closer to beating Chávez than any presidential candidate during Chávez’s presidency.  If Capriles wins the election, he plans to replicate “Brazil’s ‘modern left’ model of economic and social policies.”  Electing Capriles would foreshadow a more moderate political atmosphere in Venezuela.  However, Capriles has an uphill battle. Chávez’s legacy has been left to acting president Maduro.  Maduro has been involved in Chávez’s presidency from the beginning: Maduro helped draft the new constitution after Chávez first came to power in 1999.  Since then, Maduro has been a congressman, foreign minister, and most recently, Vice President.  Maduro’s union leader and bus driver background only makes him a more appealing candidate to Chávez supporters.

Katharine York is a second year law student at the University of Denver and a Staff Editor on the Denver Journal of International Law and Policy.

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Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been openly battling cancer since June 2011. (BBC)

Critical Analysis: South America’s Most Controversial President has More Surgery as the Future of Venezuelan Politics Blurs

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been openly battling cancer since June 2011. (BBC)

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez has been openly battling cancer since June 2011. (BBC)

As of December 18th, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez remains in stable condition as he continues to undergo cancer treatment in Cuba. The Venezuelan government reported that Chavez, 58, had recently suffered a respiratory infection but is now resting.

Chavez remains in Cuba and is recovering from another surgery to fight cancer that is believed to be in his pelvis. This is Chavez’s fourth operation since last year. Chavez first announced he had cancer in June of 2011. Chavez underwent a surgery for a pelvic abscess and had a baseball-sized tumor removed. Last February, he underwent another surgery when a tumor reappeared in the same area. He has also undergone months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Chavez has kept secret many details of his illness, including the exact location and type of the tumors and cancer.

Due to the aggressive nature of his cancer, Chavez has named Nicolás Maduro as his successor. In the days before this most recent procedure, Chavez had announced that he needed to have another surgery because tests showed that malignant cells had reappeared in the same area of his pelvic region where tumors were previously removed. Chavez cautioned the Venezuelan people beforehand that the surgery would present risks.

Shortly after the fourth surgery took place, Vice President Maduro spoke on Venezuelan television and reassured the citizens that the procedure had been a success. Maduro also assured the public that Chavez’s vision for Venezuelan would live on, even as their leader remained incapacitated by cancer.

The precarious state of Chavez’s health has sparked quite a bit of debate over what will happen to the face of the Venezuelan government if the President dies shortly into his fourth term. The Venezuelan constitution states that, should the president leave office in the first four years of his term, an election must be held within 30 days. Chavez has encouraged Venezuelans to vote for Vice President Maduro in the new election should his health fail. However, many of Chavez’s supporters distrust Maduro and fear the President’s demise because no one else would be capable of replacing Chavez. As debate stirs over the future of Venezuelan politics, Venezuela’s political divide deepens.

Chavez defeated his political opponent, Henrique Capriles, and was re-elected as the country’s president for his fourth term this October. Despite looming health concerns, his inauguration is scheduled for January 10, 2013.

Gaby Corica is a 3L at DU law, Staff Editor for the Denver Journal for International Law and Policy, and General Editor for The View From Above. 



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University of Denver Sturm College of Law