Opposition strengthens in Venezuela: presidential decree rejected deepens the crisis

News - The economic crisis has not been kind to Venezuela – people are troubled, and it brings back memories of the street unrest in 2014 which led 40 deaths and many arrests, or the riots back in 1989, which caused hundreds of casualties.
In 2015, inflation in the country was up to 180%, and the GDP dropped by 5,7% for the second year in a row.
Previsions are not much more optimistic. According to experts, the economy could sink 8% this year, and inflation is still building up. Indeed, Venezuela has been in difficulty since world oil prices have dropped, given that oil exportations represent around 96% of the country’s economy.


The informal opposition: a counter-power steadily gaining in strength and fueled by the economic crisis

Nowadays, worsening shortage, including on essential items such as food or medicine, and inflation which has dramatically reduced the incomes of the population and therefore their purchasing power, have all been factors of the growing discontent in the streets of Venezuela. Rather than being channeled through the formal opposition coalition, anger has been expressing itself through increasing demonstrations and streets protests. According to the Venezuelan Observatory for Social Conflict, around 17 spontaneous manifestations per day constitute now the norm.
As these protests have been mainly spontaneous and are nowhere near being organized nor supervised, they have often degenerated: incidents such as looting, breakings into shops, blocking of roads have been more and more frequent.

An opposition becoming more and more structured despite remaining divided

However, the protesters were, until now, not swarming to the formal opposition and joining forces with them: indeed, the current President, Nicolas Maduro, was still enjoying the popularity held by his predecessor Hugo Chavez, who was at the head of the state from 1999 to 2013 and has been renowned for, among other achievements, bringing socialism to the country.
This assessment has now to be qualified, as, according to a recent poll, up to 70% on Venezuelans would wish President Maduro to resign. In last December, the formal opposition scored a huge victory in legislative elections. Strengthened by this victory, the opposition has tried to get Nicolas Maduro to be ousted but their endeavors have been stopped at every turn by the Supreme Court, still affiliated to the actual government – it seems that constitutional means won’t be enough to oust President Maduro before the end of his term.

A loss of ground for President Maduro: the rejection of the presidential decree

Nicolas Maduro had implemented the state of exception to try to regain order and take control of the situation and the economic crisis. However, his recent attempt to extend of six months this state of exception through a presidential decree has been rebutted the 17th May by the National Assembly, in which opposition forces are now the majority.
Furthermore, President Maduro’s position is not reinforced by other crisis happening in neighbors countries. President of Brazil Dilma Roussef’s troubled position makes him loose a precious ally. 
The rebound of world oil prices, which have risen of 60% since last January, could however enable Nicolas Maduro to mitigate the economic crisis in its country and reduce the level of unpopularity he has now gathered – and the fact remains that, despite the unrest and riots, President Maduro remains still more popular than his neightbors country’s leaders in Brazil, Chile, Peru and Colombia. If he’s going to be able to better the economic situation of his country and soothe the population’s mind remains to be seen.

Léa Guinet, Research Assistant at CIPADH


LeMonde.fr, "Au Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro menace de durcir l'état d'exception", Le Monde, 18 May 2016. Available at: http://www.lemonde.fr/ameriques/article/2016/05/18/le-parlement-venezuelien-rejette-l-etat-d-exception-decrete-par-m-maduro_4921112_3222.html

The Associated Press, "AP explains: Standoff, Dying Economy Drive Venezuelan Crisis", The New York Times, 19 May 2016. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2016/05/19/us/ap-lt-ap-explains-venezuela-crisis.html?_r=0

Ernesto Londono, "A rebuke to Venezuela's President", The New York Times, 18 May 2016. Available at: http://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2016/05/18/a-rebuke-to-venezuelas-president/ 

Patrick Béle, "Venezuela: l'opposition appelle à la désobéissance civile", Le Figaro, 18 May 2016. Available at: http://www.lefigaro.fr/international/2016/05/18/01003-20160518ARTFIG00006-venezuela-l-opposition-appelle-a-la-desobeissance-civile.php