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Venezuela, one of the world's most beautiful countries, is going through hard times. The state is in the grip of deep socioeconomic and political crises. The situation is deteriorating by the day; the authorities are losing control and Hugo Chavez´ followers are at each other’s throats.

 

When speaking about Venezuela today, one needs to consider several factors that are pushing the Bolivarian Republic into the heart of a political storm: the socioeconomic crisis, the active opposition and the split among Chavistas. Of course, these are not the only triggers, but they merit a closer look.

Chasing Toilet Paper

AFP / Federico Parra

 

Today, the once happy Venezuela has just about managed to become the most dangerous state in South America all-around: in addition to the record high crime rate (30,000 murders are committed every year), the country is living through a severe food crisis that makes it look more like one of the poorest countries in Africa rather than one of the key countries in the region. With regard to the essential goods supply, last spring Datanalisis Agency reported that there was an 80% shortage of food just in the capital Caracas, which is traditionally better supplied than most other regions. It used to be the case that Colombians living in the border regions would go into Venezuela to buy cheap petrol. But now the opposite is true: over the weekend of July 16–17, about 150,000 Venezuelans travelled to Colombia to stock up on basic foods, medicines and other essential goods. In addition to staples such as rice, sugar and vegetable oil, Venezuelans snapped up toilet paper, which has long been impossible to buy in their home country. Why didn't they do it before? The answer is simple: last August, Venezuela closed the border with Colombia and only opened it recently, and then only temporarily. Colombians welcome their neighbours, calling the border "a humanitarian corridor". This infuriates the Maduro administration, which refuses to admit the country is suffering from a food crisis. Official “Chavism” routinely places the blame for erratic supply on the opposition, the conspiracy of anti-establishment entrepreneurs and “the hand of external enemies of the Bolivarian Revolution.” However, even if there was food in stores, the average Venezuelan would not be able to afford it: according to the Central Bank of Venezuela, in 2015, inflation across the board was at 180%, and food prices rose by 315%. Add to this power outages, which have brought some factories to a standstill, and the shortage of medicines and consumables in hospitals, and you get a depressing picture indeed of life in present-day Venezuela.

The Opposition Attacks

REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

 

As I wrote back in May, President Maduro may share the fate of Dilma Rousseff since the opposition is collecting signatures for a referendum to have the leader removed from power. The referendum issue is currently on hold, but the opposition is undeterred and is attacking the authorities on all fronts. The authorities and the opposition are in a state of war, which is not conducive to stabilizing the already gloomy situation in the country. Much of the blame has to be put on the opposition, which stubbornly refuses to sit down at the negotiating table and seek reconciliation with the incumbent president, in spite of his constant calls for talks as well as mediation efforts by a number of important foreign politicians – even from the Vatican. Only recently (on July 22) did the Democratic Unity Roundtable (an opposition coalition) declare it was ready to negotiate, but only in the case of the referendum being resumed (it stalled when the signatures began to be verified by the National Electoral Council, controlled by Maduro).

 

It is still unclear how the authorities will react to the ultimatum, but it is becoming more and more difficult to delay the decision, and some clarity must be brought to the issue soon.

A Stab in the Back, but with the Best of Intentions

It would be odd if a split did not appear within the Chavista elite at such a difficult time. The unifying factor has always been the political legacy of Hugo Chavez, which manifested itself in the statist economic model and the political dominance of the left. Time has shown, however, that the legacy is vulnerable to rapid erosion: first the right burst onto the political scene, winning the December 2015 parliamentary elections. Then the socioeconomic model cracked, demonstrating its utter inefficiency by the summer of this year.

 

Some followers of Chavez have criticized Maduro before. They united on July 18, when a group of prominent Chavistas, including several Chavez ministers, gave a press conference saying that they too backed the referendum idea as the only peaceful way to settle the current political crisis. They handed in a petition to the National Electoral Council. The members of the group consider themselves to be the champions of the Constitution and of the people, who must decide the country's fate.

 

One of the dissenting voices belongs to Cliver Alcala Cordones, one of the figures most loyal to Chavez, supporting his attempt to stage a government coup in 1992. Cordones has for some time been accusing Maduro of departing from the ideas of Chavez and destroying his legacy, and urging the need to return to the ideas of the late leader of the Bolivarian Revolution. For Maduro, the “apostates” within the ranks of Chavistas are another nail in the coffin of his political career.

 

Thus, Venezuela not only is engulfed in a massive crisis but deeply divided as well. So far, there is not a sign of unity in sight, and without it the ship called Venezuela is relentlessly moving into the very eye of a perfect political storm.

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