Shining a light on Venezuela’s widening political chasm

Authors: Clarice Lim Hui Wen, Pua Yen Ting

Region Head: Clarice Lim Hui Wen

Editor: Chok Geow


Globally, differing ideologies affect political stability; in Venezuela, it is no different. The country has been facing several issues ranging from food security to political conflicts. Venezuelans are divided on two ends, with one end supporting Maduro and the other, Guaido. The last ‘democratic’ elections were held in 2020, which cemented Maduro’s regime and instilled fear amongst the people. In this paper, we analyse the reasons behind Maduro’s strong grip of power, Guaido’s unsuccessful attempts to rise to power and what this means for the future of Venezuela and its citizens.


Nicolas Maduro was Hugo Chavez’s right-hand man during the 1998 presidential election. After Chavez’s passing in 2013, Maduro assumed the role of president. In 2018, he was re-elected in highly controversial polls. Electoral authorities banned main opposition political parties from running in the election. Additionally, it was announced in March that the election would be brought forward to May from December, drastically reducing the time needed by the opposition to strategize and garner votes (Neuman & Casey, 2018). As such, the elections, which were boycotted by most opposition parties, were widely perceived as fraudulent and undemocratic.

Currently, support for Maduro by Venezuela’s military, Russia and China shows no signs of waning. Russia invests heavily in the oil industry and supplies arms and military personnel to Venezuela, while China is a significant creditor to the indebted government. Although Russia and China stand by Maduro, he is not recognised as the legitimate president by over 50 countries as he was elected unconstitutionally (Stott, 2021). Juan Guaido, the previous Speaker of the National Assembly, is recognized by many as the interim president of Venezuela (Daniels, 2019). He has expressed his desire to lead the country out of the economic and political crisis it is mired in, and to restore its democracy by creating a transitional government and holding free elections. Thus, many countries recognize him as the acting president as they support his ambition. However, to date, Guaido has been largely unsuccessful in overthrowing Maduro (Martinez, A. R., 2019).

A lack of internal support

Guaido made attempts to call for an uprising from the military, but there were little to no signs of defection (Sequera, V., 2019). The military continued to remain faithful and provide military support to Maduro in exchange for money and power. Many military officers were given high ranking positions in state-owned firms (Tian & da Silva). Nearly half of Maduro’s cabinet is made out of active or retired officers (Melimopoulos, E., 2019). With Maduro’s internal power growing stronger, he silenced dissent and arrested anybody that disobeyed him. As such, defections in the military have been rare, which explains why Guaido has only managed to gather the support of a dozen low-ranking military officers who have been suffering under the government’s rule to turn against Maduro.

Venezuelans are bearing the brunt of this power struggle. In 2019, a ‘coup’ attempt by Guaido who called out to citizens and the military to rebel against Maduro failed terribly. The political stalemate caused Venezuela’s GDP to fall by 65% since 2015 (Margolis, M., 2020). As Guaido and other opposition parties boycotted the 2020 elections which led to a landslide victory for Maduro, it further diminished the hopes that Venezuelans had for Guaido to oust Maduro.

Many Venezuelans who abstained from voting believed he had rigged the elections and would win regardless. Many are growing weary and have become frustrated by the slow pace of change amid the hardships of daily life, and are thus looking to migrate in search for better livelihoods (Berwick & Guanipa, 2019).

Backfiring of international support

Increasing sanctions, aimed at making Maduro and his cronies cave, have only worsened Venezuela’s standard of living. According to a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), there was an increase of more than 40,000 deaths due to these measures (Weisbrot, M. and Sachs, J., 2019). Maduro’s government condemned the accusations and sanctions as US propaganda and blamed it for its economic woes.

Economic & humanitarian crisis

On April 10, Bloomberg reported that the IMF had suspended the Venezuelan government’s access to nearly $400 million in Special Drawing Rights, another source of liquidity, “citing political chaos since National Assembly President Juan Guaidó claimed in January that he was the nation’s rightful leader.” According to the National Survey on Living Conditions, there was a 31% increase in general mortality from 2017 to 2018 (Weisbrot, M. and Sachs, J., 2019). An estimated 5.4 million Venezuelans have fled the country in recent years (Praag, 2019). In addition to the shortage of basic necessities, there is also widespread poverty and famine, a product of corruption among the nation’s leaders and mismanagement of the economy.

Looking into the future of Venezuela

The future of Venezuela remains uncertain. The political pressure exerted by many countries has weakened Maduro’s rule, causing his popularity to dip below 40% (Fiola, 2019). The US imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government and barred transactions with authorities whose assets are frozen in the USA. Additionally, the USA’s sanctions on oil giant PdVSA, a main source of income for the Maduro regime, deprives Caracas of $11 billion in oil revenue (Kempe, 2019). This destabilizes Maduro’s regime as it impedes him from buying off corrupt officials, weakening their loyalty to him, thus incentivising them to turn on him. These restrictions put immense pressure on Maduro’s business partners who are forced to choose between maintaining business ties with either the US or Venezuela. If more countries come together to further pressure and isolate the Venezuelan government from their allies, it will only be a matter of time until the government is weakened to the extent that Maduro is forced to cede power and negotiate a peaceful transition to preserve his dignity.

Figure 2. Venezuela’s fall in export revenue

However, international pressure on Maduro is waning with the EU dropping their de facto recognition of Guaido as interim President (Stott, M., 2021). The lack of a “credible threat of the use of force from the international community” has made overthrowing Maduro challenging (Meredith, 2020). Countries need to develop a coordinated, targeted strategy to oust Maduro, who has expressed his plan to “convoke an unelected “constituent” assembly, with the stated intent to write a new Constitution that threatens to establish a “communal state”” (Rendon & Schneider, 2020). This dictatorship poses a large threat as he will be able to tighten his grip over the state and deepen ties with China and Russia, who aim to strengthen their economic and political influence in Venezuela (Kempe, 2019). Maduro is less likely to succumb to external pressure knowing that Russia and China are behind him. It seems that he will continue to exert his authority over Venezuela for the foreseeable future unless Guaido can convince China that they will enjoy more economic benefits and be guaranteed protection over their investments under a more democratic rule.

What a restoration of democracy could entail for Venezuela

It is plausible that Venezuela can transition towards being a peaceful and stable country with greater economic stability under a democratic government. Guaido has promised to restore the economy to its former glory and increase economic growth. This will likely lead to the gradual lifting of sanctions imposed by the US on Venezuela’s oil, enabling them to resume the exporting of fuel across the globe, thus increasing job opportunities, effectively lifting Venezuelans out of poverty. This will undoubtedly increase their access to food and medicines that were previously unaffordable, thus reducing their need to flee the country for a better life. The international community has also agreed to lend their support by providing financial aid and addressing the pressing humanitarian crisis if democracy is restored.


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