By Nachiket Deuskar
For over a month now, there has been blood on the streets of Caracas, the capital of Venezuela. Millions of ordinary citizens, bus drivers, school teachers, and students have protested against the authoritarian government of Nicolas Maduro, the president of what was not so long ago, the richest per capita country in Latin America.
The protests are fresh but the problem is not new. Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela had ruled the country with an iron fist until his death in 2013. He had chosen Nicolas Maduro has his heir apparent.
But Maduro lacks Chavez’s charisma and the political grit. Banking on the vast oil revenues, Chavez had developed Venezuela into a socialist utopia, subsidising food and other basic necessities. But, as the oil prices fell, the government scrambled to hold the economy together.
Maduro’s government has failed to stabilize the economy. The inflation was 600% in 2016, is expected to hit 1,600% by July this year and could rise up to 2,000% by 2018, studies suggest. That means you would have to carry a suitcase full of cash to buy bread.
In January this year, Maduro dissolved the National Assembly which had opposition’s majority and has called for a new constitution. If passed, this would be the country’s 27th constitution in 205 years.
Senior opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez has been in jail since 2014, serving a 13-year “politically motivated” sentence. Several other opposition members have also been jailed. The media has been suppressed, and there have been widespread allegations of psychological torture on dissenting voices.
Over the last few weeks, the nation has descended into unimaginable chaos. People have been shot dead by the police; there has been widespread looting and complete disruption of law and order.
In 1999, Hugo Chavez was elected the president of Venezuela riding on a popular uprising called the “Fifth Republic”. He was a hero for most Venezuelans. But on May 5, 2017 citizens of La Villa del Rosario burnt and tore down Chavez’s statue. This is a sign of how things have changed there. The images of that incident were shared widely across Venezuela, many comparing it to tearing down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003.
Downing of Saddam’s statue had marked the end of his reign. Venezuelans believe that this is their chance to get rid of Maduro.
But Maduro isn’t giving up just so easily. If Maduro has to be ousted, two things must happen. The military must rebel and there has to be a crack in his government, an internal division. Fractions from within the Maduro administration must rise up to the occasion. Only then shall he be ousted.
Venezuela may well oust Maduro. But, it’s going to be a tough road to recovery.