Venezuela today

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By KÁTIA ALVES FUKUSHIMA & JORGE GONZÁLEZ DURAND*

Between political polarization, US sanctions and the Coronavirus pandemic

Since the rise of Nicolas Maduro to executive power, after the death of Hugo Chávez, in 2013, Venezuela has faced a worsening economic and political crisis, with hyperinflation, currency devaluation against the dollar, shortage of basic products, in addition to the fierce polarization between government and opposition. On January 23, 2019, Juan Guaidó (Voluntad Popular – PV), one of the leaders of the opposition, proclaimed himself president of Venezuela[1] – intensifying the crisis in the country, which now has two presidents, each recognized by different internal and external actors. Added to this scenario are the US sanctions and economic blockade against Venezuela and the tragic Corona virus pandemic that is plaguing the world.

This context brings us the following questions: how is the government fighting the pandemic in the face of the economic crisis and conflicts with the opposition? What are the implications of US sanctions against Venezuela in the fight against Covid-19? How is the opposition acting in this context? Was there any alliance or truce between government and opposition in this scenario?

Government of Nicolás Maduro and the Opposition

Nicolás Maduro won the presidential election in 2013 with 50,61% of the vote. The runner-up, Henrique Capriles from the party justice first, obtained 49,12% of the votes[2]. Thus, Nicolás Maduro assumed the presidency of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, on April 19, 2013, in the midst of a series of political and economic upheavals, intensified by the death of Chávez and the small margin of votes with which he was elected. His government sought to present a more pragmatic legitimization agenda, based on the discourse of combating corruption, improving economic indicators and increasing the safety of the population (López Maya, 2013). However, since then, the country has been facing a serious economic crisis that intensified in 2014, with the depreciation of the sovereign bolivar (local currency), shortages and one of the highest inflations in the world (Table 1).

Table 1: Venezuelan inflation and the Latin American average (general level)

Table 1: Inflation in Venezuela and the average in Latin America (general level)
Source: Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV) and ECLAC: https://cepalstat-prod.cepal.org/cepalstat/Portada.html

According to the Venezuelan economist Pascualina Curcio (2020), in her book “Hyperinflation. Imperial Weapon”, “Historically, inflation in Venezuela had not surpassed double digits, except in 1996 when it reached levels of 100%. Between 1999 and 2011, the average annual inflation was 21%. As of 2012, prices began to rise at an ever-increasing pace.” The economy became precarious, as did basic health and education services.

The fact is that the country is in recession and has not managed to get out of hyperinflation, especially in view of the drop in oil production, the country's main source of revenue. The result is a reduction in the Gross Domestic Product (Graph 1), which affects the employment and income of Venezuelans and has caused the immigration of five million people to the country.

 Figure 1: Annual rate of change of Venezuelan GDP at constant 2010 prices

Source: ECLAC: https://estadisticas.cepal.org/cepalstat/Perfil_Nacional_Economico.html?pais=VEN&idioma=spanish

Although there are a number of factors that can explain the severity of the Venezuelan political, economic and social crises, such as dependence on oil, international influences and the inability of government actors to find solutions to the economic crisis, the opposition also played a central role. , by intensifying the polarization with radical actions, such as that of Juan Guaidó, then president of the National Assembly of Venezuela, of proclaiming himself president and defending a foreign intervention in the country.

The Maduro government, in the struggle to remain in power, has not faced central issues to try to overcome the economic crisis, responding in a lethargic way to the country's economic challenges, especially with regard to the need to adjust the price and exchange controls that they lend themselves to speculation, smuggling and corruption (Ellner, 2019, p.169). This last theme, added to the lack of transparency, constitutes another “Achilles heel” of the government. According to Venezuelan sociologist Edgardo Lander[3], during the Maduro government there was an increase in militarization, with the incorporation of members of the Armed Forces into public administration positions, seeking to guarantee the support of the military to the government. foreign exchange, ports and food distribution, generating a deterioration of public services and, therefore, a growing rejection of the Maduro government.

The government’s difficulties in resolving the economic crisis, according to the political scientist and internationalist, Oscar Lloreda (2019), is reflected in a gap between two groups, which he calls “bureaucratic-institutionalized chavismo” and a “popular chavismo”. For Lloreda, “what unites both groups today is the existence of a common project and horizon, traced over these twenty years. What separates them, to some extent, is the current concern of each one”. While “bureaucratic-institutionalized chavismo” focuses on survival, that is, on maintaining institutional power; “the 'popular chavismo' seems to focus more on the viability and 'historical sustainability' of the Bolivarian project”.

The opposition, however, plays a central role in the Venezuelan crisis, acting as a “disloyal opposition” throughout the Chávez (1999-2013) and Maduro (2013 – current) governments, to the extent that, in addition to opposing the government within the rules of the game, has positioned itself as a threat to democracy itself. The “disloyal opposition”, according to Linz (1991), constitutes parties and/or interest groups that promote joint action with destabilizing purposes to overthrow the government, without any possibility of constituting a new majority.

“Attacks on the political system in general more well than on parties or particular persons, the systematic defamation of politicians in the parties of the system, the constant obstruction of the parliamentary process, the support of proposals presented by other presumably disloyal parties with destabilizing purposes, action Joint action with other supposedly disloyal parties with destabilizing purposes and joint action with them in crisis situations and to overthrow governments without anyone having the possibility of constituting a new majority, are all actions typical of a disloyal opposition” (Linz, 1991, p. 62).

During the Chávez government, the opposition incited strikes (2001), coup (2002), oil sabotage (2002-2003), boycott of the 2005 parliamentary elections, among other actions to destabilize and overthrow the government. After the failure of coup actions and measures aimed at destabilization, the opposition to Chávez had acquired a more democratic character in the last years of his government. Such a strategy, largely located in the union of opposition sectors around the Table of the Democratic Unity (MUD), led to a considerable improvement in their election results. The opposition, in this sense, not only gained power in important states of the country, but also made its chances of victory in the presidential elections real. Despite the clear absence of a guiding ideology (Barrionuevo, 2010), the MUD managed to bring together all sectors dissatisfied with the Chavista government, creating around the figure of the then governor of the state of Miranda (2008-2012), Henrique Capriles, the personification of the anti-Chávez leader. However, after the defeat in the April 2013 presidential election to Nicolás Maduro, the opposition was divided and some sectors returned to the old path, not recognizing the result of the elections and inciting violent anti-government protests – known as “The exit” (2014). Despite this split, the opposition won the 2015 parliamentary elections, achieving a qualified majority with 2/3 of the legislative seats (112 out of 167 deputies). Maduro, shortly after the announcement of the results by the president of the National Electoral Council, Tibisay Lucena, acknowledged defeat[4].On the day of the deputies' inauguration, the newly elected president of the Assembly, Henry Ramos Allup (AD) presented a confrontational speech with the government, stating that within a period of six months he would implement a mechanism "to change the government" ( Scharfenberg, 2016). After taking office, the first measure of the opposition was to remove the paintings of Chávez and Bolívar from the wall of the parliament or of any vestige that represented Chavista hegemony, adopting a “policy of resentment”. The confrontation intensified when the Supreme Court of Justice (TSJ) declared, on August 11, 2016, the Assembly in “contempt”, that is, all the acts of the new Assembly were considered null, as it maintained possession of three deputies from the state of Amazonas, whose election was temporarily suspended due to accusations of electoral fraud and vote buying[5] (Decision n.260/2015). The opposition accuses the intervention of the Judiciary in the Assembly of a “judicial coup”. On the other hand, the government speaks of a “coup d'état” in the face of the violation of laws by the opposition (Pardo, 2016). The TSJ took over the functions of the Assembly. The opposition responded to the TSJ decision with a series of violent protests in several cities across the country, known as “Las Guarimbas” (barricades with street resistance), aimed at overthrowing the government. The violent protests lasted for almost 60 days, with road closures and clashes between protesters and security forces, which registered 127 deaths and more than 3.000 people injured (Miranda, 2019). Faced with the real possibility of the country falling into a civil war due to the high degree of violence in the streets and the opposition's refusal to dialogue, Maduro, using Articles 347, 348 and 349 of the Constitution, convened on May 01, 2017 , a National Constituent Assembly (ANC). On July 30, 2017, the election that would form the National Constituent Assembly took place. The opposition decided not to participate in the elections, defending abstention in the electoral process. The government's strategy with the ANC was to stop the violence promoted by the opposition and recover governability. Although, in this sense, the government has achieved some successes, it has also suffered harsh criticism not only from the opposition, but also from sectors of the government concerned with Hugo Chávez's main legacy, the 1999 Constitution. It is likely that the ANC will dissolve after the parliamentary elections scheduled for this year (2020), according to a dialogue between the government and the opposition. Subsequently, the opposition split again regarding participation in the October and December 2017 regional elections (for governors and mayors, respectively) and in the May 2018 presidential elections. The boycott of the 2018 elections favored the Chavistas who won with vast majority (Ellner, 2019, p.184).

Linz (1991, p. 56-66) points out that a government facing disloyal opposition at either end of the ideological spectrum “finds itself in a difficult situation when it is forced simultaneously to assert its authority and broaden its base of support”. It is not improbable that, faced with disloyal opposition and the dangers it can cause, the government, seeking to save the regime, would move in an authoritarian direction. This seems to be exactly the case in Venezuela under Maduro.

As we can see, Venezuela is experiencing a scenario of political and social polarization that prevents the development of democracy in the country. As José Vicente Rangel (2015) states, “the country is tired of a polarization that consumes energy and prevents major national problems from being faced with integrating and efficient criteria. The challenge faced by both Chavismo and the opposition is the achievement of reconciliation”. However, it seems that the option of part of the opposition was to further exacerbate the polarization and crisis in the country, as when we observe Guaidó's action of proclaiming himself president and defending a foreign intervention in the country.

The divided opposition

The Venezuelan opposition is very divided and weakened at the moment. There is a minority sector led by Juan Guaidó that bets on a coup d'état, assassination and the US invasion (Mello, 2020). On the other hand, there are other opposition sectors that have distanced themselves from Guaidó and have tried to explore other ways of doing politics. New leaderships of traditional parties like Democratic Action: Independent Electoral Political Organization Committee (I coped) and the Movement to Socialism (MAS), together with younger parties, are building channels of direct communication with the government[6].

The election of a new board of directors for the National Assembly on January 05, 2020 for the 2020-2021 parliamentary period was a clear sign of division and that part of the opposition does not support Guaidó's violent strategy. The election for the Board of Directors of the Assembly is annual[7] and since 2015 there was an agreement within the opposition coalition Mesa de Unidad Democratica (MUD), which provided for the rotation of management positions in Parliament between the different parties that comprise it. This year, the leadership was up to the minority parties[8]. However, Guaidó broke the agreement[9], seeking re-election. In a controversial election due to the clash between the political actors of the MUD, Luis Eduardo Parra Rivero (justice first) as President, Franklyn Leonardo Duarte (COPEI) as Vice President, Jose Gregorio Noriega Figueroa (Voluntad Popular) as second vice president. Guaidó and his allies did not recognize the result of the elections, proclaiming himself president of the National Assembly, based on a parallel election held at the newspaper's headquarters. The National on the same day[10].

With parliamentary elections scheduled for the end of 2020, parties have begun to move their chips. Guaidó defends abstention, but some of his followers argue that this would be political suicide (Alí López, 2020).According to political scientist Michael Penfold[11], denying the importance of the electoral issue has its risks and the search for abstention has not managed, as the opposition would like, to mobilize the population for a political change.

The relationship between government and opposition has been characterized as a zero-sum game. The victory of one means the total “extinction” of the other. It is clear that while the search for solutions to the political crisis does not provide institutional guarantees for both parties, Venezuelan democracy will continue to languish.

US sanctions against Venezuela

Despite the internal issues involving government and opposition, it is impossible to understand the Venezuelan crisis without taking into account the role played by the USA. Since the rise of Hugo Chávez in 1999, relations between Venezuela and the United States have been characterized by diplomatic tensions, especially after the 2002 coup against the Chávez government (1999-2013), led by the opposition and supported by the Bush government (2001 -2009). During the Maduro government, the relationship between the two countries intensified, with the imposition of sanctions by the United States against the Venezuelan country.

William Serafino and Franco Vielma (2018, p.115), in their book “X-ray of a besieged low country” explain the so-called “non-conventional war”, which constitutes an economic and financial war, which aims to asphyxiate the Venezuelan economy, thus seeking to make the government unfeasible. This war involves the application of financial and trade sanctions that restrict the country's trade relations with other economies and limit its ability to take out or renegotiate foreign loans.[12]. In addition to US strategies, domestically, a small but powerful sector of entrepreneurs, agribusiness and the main food distribution chains have joined some form of sabotage of the economy since 2012.

From this same perspective, Pascualina Curcio (2017, p.23), in her book “The visible hand of the market. Economic war in Venezuela“, explains that this attack was expressed through: 1) planned scarcity, through the reduction of imports despite the foreign exchange delivered to the private sector, the selective accumulation of essential goods by oligopolistic companies that dominate the market, preventing these goods from reach the shelves of national markets and the smuggling of extraction, in addition to the stoppage of production and the change in the presentation of products in the basic basket; 2) induced inflation; 3) supply boycott; 4) the disguised trade embargo and; 5) of the international financial blockade. According to the author (2017, p.85), this “unconventional war” against Venezuela is configured from the visible and disproportionate manipulation of an economic variable (the parallel exchange rate[13]), accompanied by a communicational and psychological campaign (influencing the expectations of economic agents through messages of serious economic crisis and default of the Venezuelan economy). In addition, it is based on the structural weaknesses of the national economy, such as the high dependence on imported goods and the concentration of imports in a few companies and the low control exercised by the State over these monopolies, which caused the loss of purchasing power of Venezuelans, inducing a hyperinflation.

This aggression of foreign origin has several fronts and began long before Donald Trump's first sanction against the country. In March 2015, former US President Barack Obama signed a decree (Executive Order 13.692) that declared Venezuela an unusual threat to national security and US foreign policy, allowing the president, for example, to impose sanctions or freeze certain assets. This decree was the tool used by his successor, Donald Trump, to apply the first formal sanctions against the Venezuelan economy, in 2017.

At first, it was claimed that the sanctions affected only certain government representatives. Over time, it became clear that these unilateral measures affected the entire economy of the country. The sanctions affect the Central Bank of Venezuela, the main public company Petróleos de Venezuela S.A (PDVSA), the ministries of Mines, Health, Foreign Affairs, among other institutions, in addition to jeopardizing the progress of social programs promoted by the government. . They do not allow, for example, the government to buy the medicines and food that people need in the midst of the current crisis.

Among the actions promoted by the United States against Venezuela, we can mention the seizure or confiscation of assets and accounts of the Venezuelan State abroad; the blocking of financial transactions related to Venezuela; the recognition of an interim government and; the international delegitimization of the government of Nicolás Maduro. In the first two years, the US froze more than $37 billion from the Venezuelan state in international bank accounts. The Bank of England was left with a consignment of Venezuelan gold worth 1,2 billion euros, belonging to the Republic. In 2017, the US government prohibited, through Executive Order 13.808, carrying out transactions with Venezuelan debt securities and buying bonds from its state oil company (PDVSA). It also prohibited the payment of dividends or profit sharing to the Venezuelan government by companies operating in the US, preventing the repatriation of dividends from the Citgo petroleum, a Venezuelan state-owned company (Curcio, 2019). In a country that needs to import food, medicine and essential goods and therefore depends on the performance of oil abroad, this measure was a blow to its finances. The country's imports fell by more than 50% compared to 2015, a fact that constitutes one of the factors that aggravates the Venezuelan economic crisis (Marco, 2017). In 2018, the government of Donald Trump imposed, through Executive Order 13.827, coercive measures against the Petro cryptocurrency, launched by the Venezuelan government to balance the economy, prohibiting debt restructuring, as well as prohibiting any citizen or institution from making transactions financial institutions with the Venezuelan cryptocurrency. Large food producers and distributors, including the main pharmaceutical companies in the world, refuse to sell to the Venezuelan state, for fear of US sanctions. Donald Trump also issued Executive Order 13.835, which prohibits the purchase of debt and accounts payable by companies owned by the Government of Venezuela. In 2019, Trump approved new sanctions against Petróleos de Venezuela SA (PDVSA), which included the freezing of US$7 billion in assets of subsidiary CITGO, in addition to an estimated US$11 billion loss of its exports over the next few years ( Curcio, 2019). The US government sanctioned ships that brought food for the government-subsidized food distribution program called CLAP (Local Food and Production Councils). This program distributes basic food baskets monthly to 7 million Venezuelan families, with its cost subsidized by the federal authorities[14].

Faced with this scenario, the government was forced to explore new trade routes, using intermediaries that increase costs and sometimes make it impossible for goods to arrive at the country's ports. According to Curcio (2019), sanctions against the Venezuelan economy have three effects: 1) it deteriorates the real wage; 2) decreases production levels; 3) makes public spending and public investment insufficient.

In 2020, Trump banned refineries around the world from selling supplies to Venezuela to make gasoline. This caused fuel shortages in the national territory. In a country that depends on oil to grow and balance its public accounts, sanctions by the United States, a country that buys four out of every ten barrels exported by Venezuela, have been a catastrophe for a sector that is already in difficulties. The attack on the oil sector means an attack on the heart of the Venezuelan economy.

The study by Mark Weisbrot and Jeffrey Sachs (2019) estimates that, between 2017 and 2018, US sanctions caused more than 40.000 deaths in the Venezuelan population. The national government launched the campaign “Sanctions are a crime” to denounce the White House's genocidal action against various countries around the world.

According to German sociologist Heinz Dieterich “Trump's aggression against Venezuela is still in the phase of psychological warfare, in which you use all kinds of military, economic, political, media and cultural pressure to demoralize the enemy and strengthen the resolve of your allies ” (Sputnik Brasil, 2020).

As Oscar Lloreda (2019) points out, the US strategy is currently focused on two dimensions: i) asphyxiating the Venezuelan economy and ii) diplomatically isolating the country, thus betting, at least initially, on the internal collapse from external pressures.

But how important is Venezuela to the United States? While many analysts will point to Venezuelan oil as an explanatory variable, since Venezuela has one of the largest reserves in the world; others point out that Venezuela is a key player in the geopolitical dispute that today involves the United States, Europe, China and Russia. For Lloreda (2019), the interest of the United States is related to the fact that “Chavismo and Venezuela became the reference of a world that seemed condemned to the “end of history”. Hence the need to remove everything that Chavismo represents, beyond the electoral route, seeking to demonstrate “that it is neither viable nor possible to build an alternative to the hegemonic model”.

The Maduro government in times of pandemic

In recent months, the health crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has hit Venezuela in the face of this scenario of recession and political polarization, aggravated by US sanctions against the country. In this context, the government's ability to come up with harm reduction measures has been severely compromised. For some time now, the US government has prohibited pharmaceutical companies from selling medicines to Venezuela, for example, directly affecting the public health system, already weakened by the economic crisis. However, this forced the government to explore other supply channels and the country now has the support of China, Russia, Iran, Cuba, in addition to the World Health Organization, the International Red Cross and the United Nations. For several years, drug shipments have regularly arrived in the form of humanitarian aid from these countries and international organizations, and this has continued during the present pandemic.

Despite the difficulties, in general, the government has defined a strategy that has so far been successful in combating Covid-19. The plan has four stages: first, a collective and voluntary quarantine was declared as soon as the first two infected[15] in the country were detected. On March 13, 2020, the President issued Decree No. 4.160 declaring a State of Alert throughout the national territory to respond to the health emergency of the Coronavirus (COVID-19)[16].Chapter II of this decree already presented some immediate measures, such as the mandatory use of protective masks in public places, such as hospitals, supermarkets, public transport, among others. School and academic activities were suspended throughout the national territory from March 16, in addition to public shows or any type of event that involved agglomeration of people. The government also adopted the suspension of economic activity in all cases where employees could not work from home. Exceptions for designated vital sectors: utilities (water, energy, cooking gas), health services, gas stations, drugstores, medical supply manufacturers, ports, food supply chain and agricultural production chain. Restaurants could operate only to serve meals to go. Chapter IV, article 30, establishes the creation of the Presidential Commission for the Prevention and Control of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), composed of the vice-president of the executive branch and the ministers of Popular Power for Health; Internal Affairs, Justice and Peace; for Defense; for Science and Technology; for Education; for University Education; National Industry and Production; National Trade, Economy and Finance; for Indigenous Peoples; for Communes and Social Movements; for Transport and; a representative of the National Coordinating Committee for Civil Protection and Disaster Management.

On March 16, after the confirmation of new cases, President Nicolás Maduro declared quarantine, first in the states of Miranda, La Guaira, Vargas, Táchira, Apure, Zúlia and Cojedes and in the city of Caracas – Distrito Capital and the following day extended it to the whole country. This measure contributed significantly to the non-proliferation of the virus. While in other countries hundreds or thousands of new cases are registered daily, Venezuela has registered only a few cases per day.[17].

It is worth mentioning that the quarantine in Venezuela is voluntary. It's not a curfew, it doesn't arrest or fine anyone who leaves the house. The government appealed to the population for responsibility and obtained good results. Which demonstrates that even with a polarized society, the pandemic and the measures against it were not politicized, as in Brazil.

The second stage of the government's strategy has been the expanded and personalized screening of the population. The government uses, as an instrument, the so-called Homeland Card. Through this card, he assigns monthly bonuses, assists people with disabilities, pregnant women, grants scholarships for children and young people, etc. Furthermore, at the beginning of the epidemic, the government made a health survey available on the Homeland Card[18]. Basically, it was a questionnaire about symptoms and risk conditions. People were asked if they had a fever, cough and shortness of breath. They also asked if the person had recently traveled abroad or if they had been in contact with someone who had traveled abroad. This made it possible to identify hundreds of thousands of suspected cases, which were visited in their own homes by a team made up of doctors from Bairro Adentro[19], Cubans and Venezuelans, nurses, and medical and nursing students in recent years. They were also accompanied by a government support member and social leaders from each sector. House-to-house visits made it possible to detect suspected cases, test them and confirm whether they had Covid-19. The government did not wait for patients to arrive at hospitals, actively seeking them out in their own homes through this “Homeland Card".

The third stage consists of the therapeutic arsenal. When the pandemic broke out, the Venezuelan government stocked a set of drugs that have been used in other countries to treat the new disease, in addition to screening tests, surgical material and other medical supplies. This was possible thanks to the support of Cuba, China[20], Russia, WHO, UN and International Red Cross. Thus, Venezuela managed to get enough “treatment” for the Coronavirus before the first case was detected in the country. Venezuela received around 28.000 protective equipment for frontline health workers, oxygen tubes, pediatric beds, water quality control products and hygiene kits, among others[21].

Finally, Venezuela provided 23.000 hospital beds exclusively to care for Covid-19 patients. For this, he named field hospitals (sentinel hospitals) and outpatient clinics of the Bairro Adentro Mission dedicated to receiving only those infected[22]. This made it possible to prevent the spread of the virus in hospital centers.

These four stages allowed Venezuela to offer one of the best indicators on the continent in terms of the number of infected people and to present the lowest rate of deaths per 100 inhabitants in the region (Table 2).

Table 2: Confirmed cases and mortality from COVID-19 in South America (as of 19/06/2020)

Source: Johns Hopkins University, 19/06/2020 at 03:00 AM: https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/data/mortality

Economic and social policies

With regard to the economic and social protection measures adopted by the government to lessen the consequences of the pandemic, the programs to prioritize public investment in the agri-food sector stand out; exemption from income tax for people who in 2019 had an income of less than three minimum wages; six-month suspension of rent payments for individuals and companies affected by the pandemic, while landlords will be reimbursed by the government; six-month suspension of bank loan payments by companies and individuals (including capital, interest and late payment charges); payment, by the government, of salaries of all employees of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). In addition, banks have been instructed by the government to relax credit terms and secured loan requirements for SMEs and to prioritize lending to SMEs. New bank loans for companies in the health, food, pharmaceutical and personal care sectors will be guaranteed by the government. Credit conditions for these sectors will be relaxed and banks have been advised to streamline the process of issuing loans to these sectors[23].The government has extended the existing ban on dismissal of employees until December 2020[24]. Telecommunications companies (cable TV, telephone, cell phone, internet) cannot disconnect services due to payment delays for six months[25].

On April 27, the president decreed an increase in the minimum wage, a measure that came into effect on May 01, set at 400.000 bolivars, as well as increased the food benefit to the same amount, totaling 800.000 bolivars per month ( value equivalent to 4,67 dollars a month[26]).

world truce

The Secretary General of the United Nations – UN, António Guterres, requested at the beginning of the pandemic to stop all the armed conflicts that are taking place in the world. That call was heard on five continents. Guerrilla groups from Asia, Africa and Latin America stopped fighting during the health emergency[27]. The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) report entitled “Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: economic and social effects” underscores the importance of “suspending sanctions on countries subject to them to allow access to food, medical supplies, and access to COVID-19 testing and healthcare. It is a time of solidarity, not of exclusion” (ECLAC, 2020).

President Nicolás Maduro joined this call and asked the different sectors of the Venezuelan opposition for a political truce, at least during this juncture. The more moderate sector of the opposition supported the gesture and different sectors of society are looking for a possibility of dialogue, putting political disputes in the background, to combat the Coronavirus pandemic. However, part of the opposition led by Guaidó appears to have rejected the truce.

Between May 03rd and 11th, armed groups were captured on the coast near Caracas, in La Guaira, to carry out terrorist plans against the president and several political leaders of Chavismo in the so-called Gedeón operation (Lafuente and Manetto, 2020). officials point out that the operation had been originally planned by advisors to Guaidó and financed by the US and that the mercenaries were trained in Colombian territory. “The thesis defended by chavismo is based on a document according to which an American security company called Silvercorp, led by Goudreau[28], made it clear that the objective was to overthrow Maduro. In that contract, the name and signature of Juan Guaidó appear” (Manetto, 2020). The loyalty of the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the support of part of the population have been the guarantees of the continuity of the Maduro government. The national government has already denounced that new groups of mercenaries have been organized on Colombian soil. In other words, these sectors continue to bet on the violent and terrorist route.

The Gedeón operation – in a pandemic context – caused uneasiness within the opposition and even among the international actors who supported Guaidó (Olmo, 2020). According to Steve Ellner (2020), all aspects of the recent attempt to overthrow the Maduro government point to the lack of leadership capacity of Juan Guaidó. Guaidó's actions and his support for US interests in Venezuela revert to support for Maduro, even among Venezuelans who staunchly oppose his policies. Furthermore, many sectors are concerned about the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020 and seek dialogue[29]. However, there are still strong leaders who believe that the fall of Maduro is just a matter of time and continue to feed the idea of ​​an intervention. The central question for the opposition at the moment is whether or not to participate in the parliamentary elections scheduled for this year. If the decision is negative, the opposition will possibly be further weakened. But if he decides to participate, he will need to mobilize voters to go to the polls to vote, that is, to convince the same voters that the opposition, in the past, urged them to abstain. Perhaps a new stage in Venezuelan politics will open with the renewal of the parliament. Only time will tell.

Final considerations

An analysis of the Venezuelan crisis must go beyond the common sense exposed in the hegemonic national and international media that Venezuela with the Chavista governments (Governments of Chávez and Maduro) constitutes the axis of evil as pointed out by the US government. Without excusing the Maduro government from blame, given its inability to present concrete measures to combat the economic crisis and the presence of corruption in its government, we draw attention to the fact that it is not possible to analyze the Venezuelan context solely from the actions of the government. The Venezuelan case is the key element to understand what has been happening in Latin America, with the fall of leftist governments and the rise of the extreme right. Governments with inclusion programs, aimed at marginalized groups, have been rejected by the privileged middle classes of Latin American countries in movements that are not always democratic, in some cases, neo-fascist. The reaction to these governments was configured in the hate speech of “us against them”. Scenarios of polarization were accentuated and the results, especially in countries with economic crisis, were coups d'état and social chaos. A scenario already common for Venezuelans at least since the eve of the failed coup of 2002.

Venezuela, in this context, is dying in the face of the economic and social crisis, the sanctions imposed by the United States that limit the government's ability to respond, and the polarization between government and opposition. In the face of the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences, the importance of the government and the opposition to seek dialogue to combat the spread of the virus and think of democratic solutions to face the crisis that has worsened is growing. The self-interested interference of countries like the USA, Colombia and Brazil, not only does not contribute to resolve the crisis, but also intensifies internal positions and makes any moderate exit difficult.

* Katia Alves Fukushim is a postdoctoral researcher at the Graduate Program in Social Policy at the Federal University of Espírito Santo (UFES).

*Jorge González Durand is a professor of social communication at Aldea Universitaria Ezequiel Zamora and a journalist at South Radio.

References


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Barrionuevo, Jorge (2010). “Primary Elections in Venezuela. La MUD y los líos con el CNE”. Andean Magazine of Political Studies, at the. 5, Venezuela, April, pp. 3-13.

ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean). (2020). “Latin America and the Caribbean in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic: Economic and social effects”. Covid-19 Special Report, No. 1. Santiago: ECLAC, April.

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Notes


[1] Several countries, including the US, Brazil and the Lima group countries, have recognized Guaidó as "interim president".

[2] http://www.cne.gob.ve/resultado_presidencial_2013/r/1/reg_000000.html?

[3] Edgardo Lander in an interview published in “The Daily".  https://ladiaria.com.uy/articulo/2017/3/sociologo-venezolano-cuestiona-la-solidaridad-incondicional-de-la-izquierda-latinoamericana-con-el-chavismo/

[4] View: https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias/2015/12/151204_venezuela_parlamentarias_oposicion_chavismo_dp

[5] The three deputies suspended were Julio Ygarza (MUD), Nirma Guarulla (MUD), Romel Guzamana (MUD), as well as a candidate belonging to the governing party Miguel Leonardo Rodríguez (PSUV). To get out of the “contempt” it was necessary to remove these deputies from the state of Amazonas.

[6] View: https://www.parlamentomercosur.org/innovaportal/v/8407/1/parlasur/venezuela:-continuan-las-mesas-de-dialogo-entre-gobierno-y-oposicion.html e https://www.efe.com/efe/america/politica/la-mesa-de-dialogo-venezolano-anuncia-un-pronto-acuerdo-para-el-nuevo-organo-electoral/20000035-4169378

[7] The election is foreseen in the Constitution and in the Rules of Procedure and Debate. The Board of Directors is composed of the positions of president, vice president, second vice president and the secretary and undersecretary. See: https://transparencia.org.ve/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/RIDAN.pdf

[8] View: https://www.globovision.com/article/griselda-reyes-minorias-deben-presidir-asamblea-nacional-en-2020

[9] See: https://www.eluniversal.com/politica/58852/an-instalara-junta-directiva-para-nuevo-periodo-legislativo-este-domingo.

[10] See: https://www.eluniverso.com/noticias/2020/01/05/nota/7677462/vivo-instalacion-nueva-junta-directiva-asamblea-nacional

[11] Michael Penfold in an interview with Luz Mely Reyes. https://efectococuyo.com/politica/michael-penfold-el-venezolano-quiere-una-salida-electoral-le-toca-a-los-dirigentes-construirla/

[12] What hinders the recovery of the Venezuelan economy and the renegotiation of the external debt, which reaches more than 80% of the GDP. Source: ECLAC: Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean: Own estimates based on national sources.

[13] The real economy price marker is based on the parallel exchange rate. That is, the parallel exchange rate is used as a reference for calculating imported goods in bolivars.

[14] View: https://www.telesurtv.net/news/venezuela-cronologia-medidas-sanciones-eeuu-20200213-0004.html

[15] According to Vice President Delcy Rodríguez, they are two Venezuelan citizens: a 41-year-old woman who recently arrived from the US, Italy and Spain, and a 52-year-old man from Spain. The government asked for preventive quarantine for travelers who flew with them.

[16] Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela No. 6.519 Extraordinary of 13/03/2020.

[17] Venezuela, from March 13 when it discovered the first two cases of Covid-19 until May 15, registered less than 30 new cases per day. On July 06, the country registered 242 new cases. On the same day, Brazil registered 21,486 new cases; Peru recorded 2,985; Chile recorded 3,025; Colombia: 3,171; Argentina: 2,632; Ecuador: 422 and; Bolivia: 1,226. Source: https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/?#countries e https://covid19.patria.org.ve/estadisticas-venezuela/

[18]https://www.patria.org.ve/login

[19] The Barrio Adentro mission is a social program that aims to guarantee the right to health for the entire population through a network of clinics and hospitals in all municipalities in the country. It is a preventive medicine that is geographically close to the people, because the modules and the doctors live in the communities themselves.

[20] In April, four shipments of Humanitarian Assistance arrived from China, bringing more than 110 tons of medicines and surgical medical material.

[21] https://cepalstat-prod.cepal.org/forms/covid-countrysheet/index.html?country=VEN&theme=2      

[22]In Venezuela, all Covid-19 treatment is free. The government covers all screening, treatment and hospitalization costs. There are 46 health centers across the country facing the Coronavirus crisis. To see: http://ultimasnoticias.com.ve/noticias/coronavirus/centros-de-atencion-centinelas-para-el-covid-19/

[23] Source: ECLAC: Resident Coordinators of the United Nations System and Coordinator Office for Development, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

https://cepalstat-prod.cepal.org/forms/covid-countrysheet/index.html?country=VEN&theme=3

[24] Under the terms of the ban on dismissal, employees can still be dismissed with legal cause, if authorized by the Ministry of Labor, or by paying the employee double the legally required severance and benefits.

[25] Source: Cepal: https://cepalstat-prod.cepal.org/forms/covid-countrysheet/index.html?country=VEN&theme=5

[26] Dollar value according to the official exchange rate on 27/04/2020. Source: Central Bank of Venezuela (BCV).

[27] View: https://nacoesunidas.org/chefe-da-onu-pede-mais-esforcos-diplomaticos-para-atingir-cessar-fogo-em-meio-a-pandemia/

[28] Former member of the United States Special Forces and now representative of the private security company Silvercorp, based in Florida.

[29] View: https://www.telesurtv.net/news/venezuela-mesa-de-dialogo-avances-negociaciones-cne-elecciones-20191118-0031.html

 

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