Venezuela crisis: What is behind the turmoil?


Tension in Venezuela is on the rise again as the opposition and the government accuse each other of trying to stage a coup.

In its latest economic outlook the International Monetary Fund says that “Venezuela remains mired in a deep economic crisis” with unemployment on the rise and the country in recession for the past three years.

Here, we look more in depth at the problems facing Venezuela and its president, Nicolas Maduro.

Why is Venezuela so divided?

Venezuela is split into Chavistas, the name given to the followers of the socialist policies of the late President Hugo Chavez, and those who cannot wait to see an end to the 18 years in power of his United Socialist Party (PSUV).

After the socialist leader died in 2013, Nicolas Maduro, also of the PSUV, was elected president on a promise to continue Mr Chavez’s policies.

Chavistas praise the two men for using Venezuela’s oil riches to markedly reduce inequality and for lifting many Venezuelans out of poverty.

But the opposition says that since the PSUV came to power in 1999, the socialist party has eroded Venezuela’s democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.

Chavistas in turn accuse the opposition of being elitist and of exploiting poor Venezuelans to increase their own riches.

They also allege that opposition leaders are in the pay of the United States, a country with which Venezuela has had fraught relations in recent years.

Why has Mr Maduro’s popularity plummeted?

Mr Maduro has not been able to inspire Chavistas in the same way his predecessor did. His government has furthermore been hampered by falling oil prices.

Oil accounts for about 95% of Venezuela’s export revenues and was used to finance some of the government’s generous social programmes which, according to official figures, have provided more than one million poor Venezuelans with homes.

The lack of oil revenue has forced the government to curtail its social programmes, leading to an erosion of support among its core backers.

If the divisions are old, what has triggered this latest flare-up?

A series of events has further heightened tensions between the government and the opposition and led to renewed street protests.

Key was the surprise announcement by the Supreme Court on 29 March that it was taking over the powers of the opposition-controlled National Assembly.

The opposition said that the ruling undermined the country’s separation of powers and took Venezuela a step closer to one-man rule under President Nicolas Maduro.

The court argued that the National Assembly had disregarded previous Supreme Court rulings and was therefore in contempt.

While the Supreme Court reversed its ruling just three days later, distrust of the court did not subside.

Opposition supporters were further angered by the 15-year ban from public office of opposition leader Henrique Capriles, which was announced on 7 April.

Mr Capriles, who narrowly lost to Mr Maduro in the 2013 election, was likely to stand again in the 2018 presidential poll.

His disqualification from politics until 2032 robs the opposition of one of its most visible and experienced leaders.

What does the opposition want?

They have four key demands:

  • Removal from office of the Supreme Court justices who issued the 29 March ruling
  • General elections in 2017
  • Creation of a “humanitarian channel” to allow medication to be imported to counter the severe shortages in Venezuela
  • Release of all the “political prisoners”                                                                                                                                        bbc

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