Protests have rocked Venezuela following the now-overturned Supreme Court ruling that stripped the National Assembly of its power to legislate and handed that power over to the Court itself. Because the courts are packed with loyalists, many view the opposition-controlled National Assembly as the sole check on president Nicolás Maduro’s power . The protests also come in response to the deteriorating economic situation in the country with widespread food shortages and increasingly rare medicinal supplies.
The most significant part about these recent demonstrations is that the lower income areas of Caracas and the surrounding areas, often bastions of support for the Maduro administration, have been active participants. Many are coming out to demonstrate the exponential increase in prices on basic necessities such as food and medicine.
In recent days, the protests have turned violent with the National Guard and national police service firing tear gas into the crowds and utilizing water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowds. Venezuela’s neighbors have condemned the violence and have called on the government to hold elections to bring back democracy to the country. Reuters quoted Brazil’s foreign minister as saying, “Brazil supports an honest and effective international political dialogue to guarantee the full restoration of democracy.”
Despite the intense media coverage of the current political situation in Venezuela, the country has been heading down this path for quite some time. In 2015, The Economist reported on the arrest of an opposition-aligned Caracas mayor in an article titled “Sliding Toward Dictatorship.”
A dual Venezuelan-American citizen, Maria Rivera-Novoa, also a Portland State/Portland Community College dual enrollee, said that the slide toward dictatorship in the country was not so obvious. She compared it to how a lobster is cooked: “You place it in the water alive and it is unaware it is about to die because the process [of boiling] is so slow and gradual.”
Slowly the institutions that are upheld in democratic countries have been eroded and stuffed with regime loyalists. The enthusiasm that swept Hugo Chávez to power allowed him to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions without the people’s knowledge.
“It’s great people and countries are speaking out, but this is not new,” Rivera-Novoa said.
The Caracas-based government has banned political opposition figures from running for government, with the most recent casualty being the popular opposition governor of the state of Miranda, Henrique Capriles. Maduro cited Capriles’ support and presence as a prominent figure among the demonstrators as the reason he is unable to run.
“The right wing’s treason of our national interests is cause for indignation,” Maduro was quoted as saying in The Seattle Times.
Maduro was hoping that during Holy Week, with many Venezuelans receiving vacation time, protests would diminish slightly. Having clearly not seen that happen, the president even offered additional vacation days to citizens in an attempt to cut back demonstrator numbers.
Maduro is facing increasingly difficult odds of the protests and demonstrations ending soon, as the opposition has pledged to hold the largest of their demonstrations on April 19, the fifth anniversary of Maduro’s ascension to the presidency.