Is Maduro Maintaining His Grip on Power in Venezuela?

The Inter-American Dialogue’s Latin American Advisor published a Q&A on Venezuela yesterday with comments from Michael Shifter, Luis Vicente Leon, Mark Weisbrot, Asdrúbal Oliveros and myself. Here again, the most interesting characteristic of Venezuela’s current conjuncture is how analysts of normally quite different perspectives provide such similar descriptions of the situation. My answer is below. You can read the others here.

Next month marks the one-year anniversary of Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo López’s imprisonment and a year since massive protests broke out across the country. Meantime, the Andean country is suffering the world’s highest rate of inflation and plunging prices for oil, its chief export, with parliamentary elections set for later this year. What does 2015 hold in store for Venezuela? To what extent is Maduro maintaining his grip on power?

“Chavismo as currently formulated seems to be coming to an end. Economic growth based on state spending and an overvalued currency had already stalled in 2013. Now, after failure to reform the economy in 2014, the economy is in crisis with 70 percent inflation and widespread scarcities. To make matters worse, the price of oil has dropped by half, and Maduro’s popularity is below 25 percent. If they stay the course, Chavismo will likely lose this year’s legislative elections and a recall referendum that will become available in 2016. To avoid that, they will either need to put forward significant economic reforms—no small task for a coalition whose ideological cornerstone is anti-neoliberalism—and hope to recover by the time of the legislative elections (most likely at the end of 2015), or become a significantly less democratic government. It is important to remember that while Maduro’s and the Socialist Party’s popularity is flagging, they still control all institutions of the government, including the armed forces, the state oil company and the supreme court. The December designations (and in two cases re-designations) of National Electoral Council (CNE) rectors left the CNE largely unchanged. In recent years, it has not been able to ensure a fair campaign, but has carried out a clean election by international standards. This should facilitate an electoral solution to the crisis. A dysfunctional opposition, however, could well fail to capitalize on their most significant opportunity in 16 years. They still have not put forward a strategy for the legislative elections or even a plan for choosing candidates. Nor have they forwarded any ideas regarding what they would do to confront the crisis were they to obtain power. Instead they are planning a strategy of street mobilizations that could generate the type of conflict we saw in 2014.”