Venezuela – On The Cusp Of Freedom Or Civil War?

Following years of hyperinflation, political unrest, and a flat-lining economy, the proclamation on Thursday by Juan Guaidó declaring himself as interim President of Venezuela certainly has brought about national and international hope towards securing a stable and free state Venezuela. In retaliation, President Nicolas Maduro on the 23rd ordered US Embassy staff out of the country by 4:17pm local time on the 26th, but despite the warnings senior and essential staff have stayed in defiance, making clear the US’ intentions to recognise Guaidó as the legitimate leader of Venezuela. This most recent development despite carrying with it the hopes of a better future for Venezuela begs the question of whether Maduro intends to leave quietly or if he intends to make the country suffer further and utilize his military control to wrestle back control in his favour.

Australian Foreign Affairs Minister, Marise Payne, stated on Monday that “Australia recognizes and supports the president of the national assembly, Juan Guaidó, in assuming the position of interim president, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution and until elections are held.” Australia joins the US, Canada and a host of other European nations in calling for peaceful democratic transitions and recognizing Interim President Guaidó as the legitimate head of state. Meanwhile, Russian President Putin has denounced support for the ascending leader, stating “destructive interference from outside grossly violates the fundamental norms of international law.” Chinese and Turkish officials are also voicing their support for the Maduro’s regime reported Russia Today. In a report by the RAND Corporation in early January, William Courtney, a senior fellow with RAND, outlined the potential flashpoint Venezuela could be for conflict between the powers of the US and Russia. Following the visit of 2 Russian strategic bombers last December, Courtney notes “if Russia were to seek to station nuclear forces or infrastructure in the hemisphere, a major diplomatic and military crisis could develop.”

With these dire warnings in mind, it is important to understand the context of the situation. Following the implementation of Hugo Chávez’s socialist and welfare policies in the early 2000s, the oil-dependent economy took a notable hit when oil prices plummeted in 2014. Given that the true value of the Bolivar was far less than the official exchange rate (official rates at 10 bolivars:1 USD for Maduro allies whilst civilians pay black market rates of approximately 12,000:1 USD reports Vox), the country’s hyperinflation rate in 2018 was at 80,000%. With Maduro enabling actors such as his military and other allies’ exclusive access to the rigged exchange rates, he has kept the most important instruments of power on his side. Taking into account the precedence of violence that has already been set, it is difficult to tell both how threatened Maduro currently feels given the international pressure now being forced on him, as well as if and when he may deem it appropriate to use his command over the military against his opposition. In a worst-case scenario, Venezuela could plunge into a brutal civil war potentially drawing in larger powers like the US and Russia, considering both have already strongly affirmed their allegiances.

The near future of Venezuela and its people will most probably witness increased suffering and political turmoil, though hope now lies in the prospect of a democratic and stable state which has the potential to prevail over the prospective large-scale violence that would erupt should Maduro decide to cling to power.

Sam Raleigh


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