his a propagandist Calling him “superbearded,” his government handed out plastic toys depicting him as a caped hero. But in reality, Venezuela’s autocratic president, Nicolás Maduro, has only one superpower: as events this week demonstrate, he possesses a remarkable ability to hold on to power against the will of his fellow citizens.
During his ten years in power, the economy collapsed by 75%. A quarter of the population has immigrated: about 7 million Venezuelans. In 2018, he rigged the election. The following year, then-U.S. President Donald Trump imposed tough sanctions on Venezuela’s oil and financial industries in an effort to restore democracy. Mr Maduro, however, still shows no signs of backing down. Politically, he appears to be growing stronger.
An important competitor has gone into exile. Opposition politician Juan Guaidó was recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate president by more than 50 democratic governments in 2019. On April 24, he said he had secretly traveled overland to Colombia to attend a meeting chaired by Colombia’s leftist president, Gustavo Petro, that would bring together representatives of governments to discuss Venezuela. Colombia accused Mr Guaido of entering the country “illegally” and said he had agreed to be flown to the US. Mr. Guaido said he was deported. “These days the dictator’s persecution has come to Colombia,” he complained as he left.
The hollowing out of Venezuelan democracy began with Mr Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who died in 2013. Since Mr Maduro succeeded him, he has systematically undermined the country’s institutions. After rigging another round of elections in 2020, he formed the National Assembly to rubber-stamp his decree. He’s another way to keep the army loyal when officers run a profitable racket. Other authoritarian regimes, such as Cuba and Russia, helped prop up him.
Maduro, the former union chief, calls himself a socialist and enjoys support from the far left around the world, in part because of his hostility toward the United States. A better description of his regime would be: overbearing and corrupt. Mr Maduro’s cronies are doing very well. Venezuela is now the most unequal country in Latin America, according to researchers at the Andres Bello Catholic University in the capital, Caracas. The initial hyperinflation caused by the regime’s money printing has receded, from an almost immeasurable peak of 500% in February 2019, as the government encouraged those who could afford to ditch the local currency and use dollars (see Chart 1) .
Criticism of Mr Maduro’s tragic record is rarely aired because the regime controls television broadcasts. Earlier this month, the weekly “With Maduro” television The show is on.The President with Cilia Flores, his wife and a artificial intelligence The host, known as “Sira,” blends the looks of a Miss Venezuela contestant with the soothing authority of a real newscaster. The show could be a soft launch for his 2024 re-election bid. This poll is unlikely to be fair.
Two international developments have worked in Mr Maduro’s favour. First there was the war in Ukraine, which led to a global scramble for alternatives to Russian oil. Eager to boost global energy supplies, President Joe Biden’s administration reassessed its relationship with his regime and began lifting some of Trump’s sanctions. Last year, Biden sent envoys to meet with Maduro twice. His administration has allowed U.S. oil giant Chevron to receive Venezuelan oil to pay off debts owed by Venezuela. PDVSA, Petroleos de Venezuela.due in part to the easing of sanctions International Monetary Fund The economy is expected to grow by 5% this year.
A second shift that has helped Mr Maduro has been the recent elections of several left-wing leaders in Latin America. Mr. Petro, former member riceThe -19 is a leftist guerrilla group that quickly moved to restore diplomatic relations after coming to power last year. He has met Mr Maduro several times. Armando Benedetti, the first Colombian ambassador to Venezuela in three years, was sent to Caracas just days after Petro took office. In January, the 2,200-kilometer (1,400-mile) border between the two countries reopened to cars after being largely closed for seven years.
Mr Petro’s meeting on April 25 will bring together representatives from at least 19 governments in Europe and the Americas. Mr Petro wants to try to encourage negotiations between the Venezuelan opposition and Mr Maduro’s regime. His meeting has two stated goals: a fair presidential election in 2024 and the lifting of U.S. sanctions. Mr Petro discussed the initiative when he met with Mr Biden in Washington on April 20.
cape without hope
Mr Pietro has his own motives to curry favor with Mr Maduro. One of his campaign promises last year was to bring “total peace” to Colombia.A major obstacle to this ambition is the National Liberation Army (known as the ELN), a left-wing guerrilla group that has been fighting the Colombian government since its founding in the 1960s.this ELNOperations, including drug trafficking and illegal mining, are not limited to Colombian territory. The group also has bases in Venezuela, where it enjoys almost total impunity.
One rumor circulating in Caracas is that Mr. Petro offered Mr. Maduro a deal: He would persuade Mr. Biden to lift sanctions on Venezuela, and in return Mr. Maduro would persuade Mr. ELN Negotiate peace with the Colombian government. “It sounds like a win-win, it’s just that both sides offer something that they can’t necessarily offer,” said a Western diplomat based in Caracas.
Official talks between the Venezuelan opposition and the regime, brokered by Norway, stalled last year. Maduro’s government claims it has reached an agreement with the opposition to create a humanitarian fund from about $3.2 billion in frozen government cash, but has been blocked by the United States. The truth is much more complicated: There are legal debates about how to manage the fund, how to protect it from creditors, and how to distribute it. Meanwhile, after sanctions on Chevron were lifted, the Biden administration said the next step must be for Mr Maduro to show he is willing to restore democracy. That would mean admitting all opposition candidates, many of whom have been barred from office, including Mr Guaidó. It also means allowing independent international election observers to monitor the vote.
Why would Mr Maduro agree to any concessions that could cost him the election? One explanation is that he believes he can win what the international community considers a fair vote. It’s not implausible: The opposition, currently debating whether and how to hold a primary in October, may not be able to rally around a single candidate. Support for Mr Maduro was 22 percent in February, according to polling firm Datanálisis. It’s low, but not as low as it used to be.
Another explanation is that dictators see negotiation as a way to gain more power. “The reality is that Maduro is far less powerful than he thinks,” said Geoff Ramsey of the Atlantic Council, a U.S. think tank. “Going into an election year, he’s desperate for cash, and the only way Venezuela can hope to revive its economy is through some form of sanctions relief.”
Venezuela’s economy is only a quarter of the size it was before Mr Maduro took office in 2013. It has shown some signs of recovery recently, but remains shaky, not least because oil production has fallen sharply (see chart 2). The state pension is now less than $5 a month. Public school teachers have been protesting for months that they are paid less than $20 a month.
Severe shortage of hard currency may be one reason why state opens corruption probe PDVSA. This led to the arrest of 61 business leaders and politicians, hundreds of investigations and the March 20 resignation of Oil Minister Tareck El Aissami, once the most powerful member of the cabal that ruled Venezuela. One of the powerful.
The scandal began to surface last year when the country’s vice president, Delcy Rodríguez, ordered PDVSAThe company’s accounts show that 84% of the oil it has shipped since 2020 has not been paid for. Shady intermediaries who contract companies to bypass sanctions appear to have exploited the situation to extract billions of dollars from companies.
Mr. El Aissami has not been charged with any crime. He has not been seen or heard in public since his resignation. However, some have claimed that Mr Maduro, in collusion with his shrewd adviser Ms Rodriguez and her brother Jorge Rodriguez, the false National Assembly president, believed Mr Essami had become too powerful. “this PDVSA Guys have become a threat, so [they] need to be removed,” said a Caracas-based businessman. On April 21, it was announced that one of those detained as part of the investigation, Leoner Azuaje, the former head of the state-owned packaging company Cartoven, was detained by the State Security Service. He died during the period. The government said he committed suicide. His family said they feared for his life.
They have reason to be concerned. On 21 April, the International Criminal Court (OOO) released details of its consultations with victims of alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. It is part of a formal investigation to determine whether Mr Maduro’s regime has committed crimes against humanity, including against its political opponents, which could lead to prosecutions. The document is the result of more than 1,700 testimonies, including reports of torture at the hands of state security thugs.
this OOO Investigations mentioned in Mr Maduro’s new deal television Releases April 24. Mr Rodriguez went on and detailed five things he said were necessary to restart talks with the opposition. In addition to lifting all sanctions, he called for an immediate end to the court investigation.Although Venezuela is established OOO. After a decade in power, Mr Maduro’s authoritarian regime still considers itself above the law. ■