Latin America

Is a Constituent Assembly the Solution for Venezuela’s Crisis? (May 27, 2017)

Venezuela is facing a deep economic and political crisisUpheavals and violent confrontations between government supporters and demonstrators are happening on a daily basis. Furthermore, marauders have entered the scenario.
The government announced the convocation of a Constituent Assembly to resolve this crisis referring to the Articles 347 to 349 of the 1999’s constitution. However, opponents consider this step to be “anti-democratic” and “anti-constitutional”.
Notwithstanding the (anti-)constitutional character of the Constituent Assembly, one aspect is of special concern: One of the government’s objectives is to constitutionalize the communes and the Communal Power. Since the communes are conceptualized as a participatory socialist authority at the local level to implement the directives of the Socialist Developmental Plan written by the Executive, this step can be interpreted as a mean to strengthen the government’s grip on power and as an assault on representative democracy.

Retaining Power By All Means? (April 11, 2017)

While the Left Turn in Latin America is successively ending, some governments of the more radical fraction of progressive governments are retaining power. For instance, in Nicaragua president Ortega has successfully rebuild the political system of his country in such a way that some analysts ask whether the Ortega regime can be considered a new family dictatorship.
In Bolivia, president Morales is not willing to accept the decision taken in the referendum of 2016 which prohibits him to run again as presidential candidate in 2019. In recent presidential elections in Ecuador, the leftist candidate Moreno came out as winner but defeated oppositional candidate Lasso has announced that he will not accept the results due to electoral fraud. In Venezuela, president Maduro continues converting the country’s political system into an autocracy. Although the following step was later reversed, the loyal and not independent judiciary had tried to deprive the parliament of its powers.

How to Secure Revolutionary Continuation of the Progressive Governments? (January 15, 2017)

The last year marked a fundamental change in the political landscape of Latin America. The so called “Left Turn” that began with Hugo Chávezʼ victory in the Venezuelan presidential elections in 1998 is successively vanishing. However, while some governments accepted their electoral defeats (e.g. in Argentina) or Impeachments (e.g. Brazil), others retain power, partly in a non-democratic fashion.
For instance, the Venezuelan president Maduro has never accepted the oppositional victory in parliamentary elections held in December 2015. With the help of a loyal judiciary Maduro is governing against the legislative branch.
In Nicaragua, in 2014 president Ortega has successfully managed to amend the constitution in order to permit unlimited presidential reelection. With the help of Venezuelan financial support he has implemented a clientelistic economic policy and has built several alliances with powerful societal actors (e.g. Catholic Church, business community) that subsequently secure his dominant and autocratic position in the country.
In Bolivia, president Morales doesn’t seem to accept the referendum’s decision taken in February 2016 which refuses a constitutional amendment for the purpose of another presidential term for Morales beginning in 2019. In November 2016 Morales announced that he is “not ready to go home”.
An exception is the case of Ecuador. President Correa announced that he is not willing to run again in the presidential elections of 2017. However, in 2015 a constitutional amendment was passed that will remove term limits for public officials (including the presidency) from 2021. Hence, critics say Correa will sit out the 2017’s elections to run again in 2021.

The Intensification of Venezuela’s Constitutional Crisis (January 12, 2017)

After the National Electoral Council (Consejo Nacional Electoral) ruled out the presidential recall referendum in December 2016 the Venezuelan crisis intensifies. After many unsuccessful protests in late 2016, oppositional leader Capriles Radonski announced a march next Monday to force the autocratic government of president Maduro to accept presidential elections.
Venezuelans face shortages of everyday products due to economic woes. As the oil price on international raw material markets remains low fiscal revenues of oil-dependent Venezuela are not sufficient to import urgently needed goods like food and medicine. Since December 2015 Venezuela is facing a constitutional deadlock: the executive and judiciary branch is controlled by the Chavistas whereas the parliament is dominated by the oppositional alliance MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática). Since Venezuela is deeply polarized into supporters and opponents of the Bolivarian Revolution and the envisioned Socialism of the 21st Century successful negotiations between the two camps and possible solutions to end the economic crisis are not to be expected anytime soon.

Autocratic Consolidation in Latin America? (August 03, 2016)

After the victory of oppositional candidate Mauricio Macri in Argentina’s presidential race, the victory of the oppositional alliance MUD (Mesa de la Unidad Democrático) in the Venezuelan parliamentary elections as well as the Impeachment of Dilma Roussef in Brazil, the leftist governments, movements and visions in Latin America are clearly losing ground.
However, some of the self-proclaimed “progressive” governments are retaining power. In this regard, Venezuela is trying to illegalize the oppositional MUD to avoid a presidential recall referendum against President Maduro. In Nicaragua, the FSLN (Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional)-dominated parliament has currently dismissed 28 oppositional delegates in order to permit President Ortega to weaken the opposition thereby helping him to get re-elected in November for a third presidential term. In both cases, the democratic rules of the game are obviously violated as oppositional rights are restricted and presidential powers are concentrated in the executive branch.

Constitutional Crisis in Venezuela (May 19, 2016)

Venezuelan President Maduro is trying to rule by decree once more and has justified this step with numerous reasons. The last time he tried this – back in January 2016 – the opposition-dominated parliament refused to pass the legally imperative enabling law necessary to rule by decree. However, this time Maduro seems to be willing to circumvent the Assembly, which in turn is criticized firmly by the opposition as a coup (autogolpe).
Venezuela is in midst of a constitutional crisis: Oppositional forces are preparing for a recall referendum to oust Maduro from office, while the president is clinging to power with the help of a loyal judiciary.

Power Struggle in Venezuela (April 30, 2016)

The clash of the constitutional powers in Venezuela is – as has been already assumed in a former post – still continuing.
The legislative branch, i.e. the Opposition-dominated Parliament, is trying to oust President Maduro from power via a recall referendum, i.e. a special referendum that allows Venezuelans to remove the elected president. However, the Maduro-Government has a firm grip on the judicial power and is likely to use this power to overrule parliamentary decisions – a phenomenon that can be characterized as “autocratic legalism”. Maduro legitimizes his resistance against the popular vote (and the subsequent threats against opposition delegates) by using the typical arguments: The political power cannot be handed over to oligarchic and imperialist forces.

Bolivia: Peopleʼs Vote Against Presidential Reelection (February 29, 2016)

On February the 21th 2016, the Bolivian people voted in a referendum against a constitutional reform enabling presidential reelection. In various Latin American states belonging to the Pink Tide, i.e. states led by left-wing governments, constitutional reforms were implemented in the course of the last decade to alter or manipulate presidential term limits in order to guarantee incumbency’s stay in power.
Various causes have been identified to explain the “No” in the referendum. Among those are, for instance, widespread dissatisfaction with the state of democracy, transparency, corruption, and the elites in power held responsible for all of the above mentioned democratic deficiencies.

Economic Emergency (January 26, 2016)

The Maduro-Government has tried to rule once again by decree, this time by using the deep and ongoing economic crisis after declaring a status of “economic emergency”. Ruling by decree is nothing new in Bolivarian Venezuela. In this vein, in the past the Parliament has regularly passed an enabling law that grants the president with these special rights. The Parliament has done so four times under former President Chávez and two times under the Maduro-presidency. However, this time it is a rather exceptional case, the current opposition-dominated Assembly refused to pass the legally imperative enabling law.
Notwithstanding, the Maduro-Government refuses to agree on the legislature’s decision and is trying to legitimize its right to rule by decree via the acceptance of the so called Citizen-Parliaments (Asambleas de ciudadanos).

In short, the clash of constitutional powers is still continuing…

Clash of Powers in Venezuela (January 12, 2016)

The expected constitutional or institutional deadlock has already begun to manifest itself. The Supreme Court of Venezuela, presumably dominated by supporters of the Maduro-Government, declared that all of the new National Assembly’s actions “will be absolutely null” as long as three members of the parliament are incorporated. The Supreme Court had suspended the three Congressmen on the 30th of December as a result of a request of the Chavista-fraction in the legislature that assumed an electoral fraud in the federal state of Amazonas.
However, the vice president of the legislative branch has announced its disobedience to the Court’s decision since it would run against the will of the people and the Constitution. Hence, a clash of the constitutional powers, i.e. the executive (the Maduro-Government) and the judicial power (the Supreme Court) one the one hand and the opposition-held legislative branch of the other hand, is likely to be observed in the near Venezuelan political future.

Institutional Deadlock in Venezuela? (January 06, 2016)

It seems as if President Maduro is not willing to accept the victory of the oppositional MUD in the parliamentary elections held on December the 6th 2015. In particular, he is trying to weaken the new Parliament, for example by constituting an alternative Parliament (Parlamento Comunal), and by centralizing power, i.e. by restricting the central bank’s independence and urging it to comply with governmental directives.
As a consequence, without any democratic consensus-building between the executive branch, i.e. the Maduro Government, and the legislature the country may slide into an institutional deadlock

Uncertain Future – The Aftermath of the Parliamentary Elections in Venezuela (December 29, 2015)

The parliamentary elections held on December the 6th 2015 marked a decisive event in Venezuelan politics and are likely to change the political landscape drastically. With its two-thirds majority in the legislature, it brought the opposition alliance (Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) an unprecedented victory. The new parliament will constitute a powerful counterforce to the executive branch, i.e. the Chavista government, and will be equipped with a wide array of political instruments to change the political and economic course of the last 16 years. Hence, the whole Bolivarian project and its visionary objective, i.e. the Socialism of the 21st Century, are at stake.

Shortcomings of the Bolivarian Revolution

Since 1998, former President Hugo Chávez has started to thoroughly overhaul the political and economic landscape of oil-rich Venezuela in the name of Bolivarianism. The Bolivarian Revolution was not only intended to transform the political system, i.e. to make it more participatory and inclusive, but also to build a socialist economy and constitute a socialist consciousness. However, the whole project was and still is heavily dependent on public expenditures and was only made possible through windfall gains due to the high oil prices in the international raw material markets. As soon as the oil price has begun to drop sharply in 2013/2014 and public revenues have therefore dwindled, the Chavista government has run into financial and political trouble. Apart from that, ever since the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, the political culture in Venezuela is marked by sharp polarizations as a consequence of the ‘populist’ and Manichaean government style on the one hand and the Opposition’s categorical resistance and sometimes improper reactions to that on the other hand. Thus, Venezuelan politics in the era of Bolivarianism is characterized by a clear lack of democratic consensus-building.
Especially since 2004/2005, the government has begun to centralize power and transform the political system into what can best be described as an electoral autocracy or a competitive authoritarian regime. The ongoing autocratization resulted in an uneven playing field between the government and the opposition, i.e. an incumbent advantage (Ventajismo official) due to an unlimited access to oil-revenues, the partial dismantling of the separation of powers, the control over public media and the support of several Bolivarian local basic organizations.

The Oppositions Return to Power?

The heterogeneous Venezuelan Opposition has been trying to get rid of the Chavista-government with different strategies, i.e. a failed coup in 2002, a general strike in 2002/2003, and a refusal to participate in the parliamentary elections in 2005. In 2006, the Opposition changed its strategy once again by forming an antichavista-alliance, the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). With the death of the ideological key figure Hugo Chávez, his substitution with the charisma-lacking Nicolás Maduro, lower public expenditures due to dropping oil prices and a subsequent lack of foreign exchange for daily needed import commodities, the Venezuelans began to feel disappointed about the government’s economic and social record and voted for the MUD.
Immediately after the election victory the MUD announced its first legislative activities once being in office. First, the economic course shall be changed, presumably in favor of free(r) markets. Secondly, an amnesty law is expected to be passed in order to free (supposed) political prisoners like the Opposition’s poster child Leopoldo López. Third, a presidential recall referendum to depose President Maduro is likely to be launched in 2016.

The Governments Stance – Between Compliance and Rhetoric Warfare

Maduro’s reaction to the lost elections was anything but a surprise as he blamed the electoral defeat on what he calls an “economic war” (Guerra económica) sparked by the Opposition and its allied supportive corporations. However, at the moment the government’s stance is pretty unclear since it is oscillating between compliance, i.e. the acceptance of the election results, on the one hand, and harsh attacks on the Opposition which can be interpreted as a refusal to respect the democratic rules of the game on the other hand. Already before the elections, Maduro announced to take the battle against the Opposition to the streets and to form a civil-military ‘counter-government’ in case of an oppositional victory. After the elections, Maduro called the defeat of his election alliance (Gran Polo Patriótico) a victory of the “counter-revolution” and he declared to fight against the Oppositions “electoral coup” (golpe electoral).

Uncertain Future Ahead

The future will show whether Maduro’s government is willing to play by the (democratic) rules and tries to cooperate with the oppositional legislature or whether the reaction will be another boost in autocratic power consolidation. However, in the regional context Venezuela has lost the once unwavering support of neighboring partners Bolivia, Ecuador, and Nicaragua. Thus, the dream of a regional integration scheme under the ideology of Bolivarianism and of the Socialism of the 21st Century has already begun to fall apart.

Parliamentary Elections in Venezuela (November 18, 2015)

On December the 6th 2015, parliamentary elections will be held in Venezuela. Due to a considerable lead of the opposition alliance (united in Mesa de la Unidad Democrática) in almost every poll, the elections could mark a turning point in Venezuelan politics. At the moment, both the executive and the legislative branch are controlled by the Chavistas, i.e. politicians adhering to the Bolivarian Revolution and the project of Socialism of the 21st. Century envisioned by the meanwhile deceased former President Hugo Chávez.
In particular, a victory of the opposition alliance would potentially entail two significant mutually excluding consequences: Either the separation of powers that were dismantled in the last couple of years and paved the way for an autocratic regime could be restored. Or, in case the government refuses to accept the election results, the already polarized and tense political culture is likely to deteriorate further.