Hugo Chávez quickly came to terms with the old economic elite, especially when he tried to gain control of the state oil company PDVSA. In 2002, opposition politicians, the business elite and some of the military tried to overthrow Chávez. It failed, and after this the political fronts in the country became even steeper. Chávez ensured the support of the military by giving them an important role in politics.
President Chávez gave himself more and more power, and he removed the restrictions on how long one person could retain presidential power. But Chávez was very popular, especially among the poor, and he won the presidential elections in 2000, 2006, and 2012 by a good margin. Chávez died of cancer in 2013. His designated successor, Nicolás Maduro, won the presidential election, which was organized afterwards.
In 2015, however, it was the opposition that won the election to the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority. But before the new assembly took office, 13 Supreme Court judges were replaced by government-loyal judges. The new Supreme Court claimed that the opposition’s representatives from the National Assembly had been elected with cheating. Therefore, it would not approve any of the decisions that were made. These included attempts to block Maduro’s solution to the economic crisis: to take out new loans.
Dissatisfaction with the government grew. In 2014, mass demonstrations were organized against food shortages, corruption, and the widespread crime in the country. 43 people were killed and hundreds arrested. The government started a dialogue with the opposition, but no agreement was reached.
Following new demonstrations in 2017, Maduro decided to set up a Constituent Assembly, with representatives from different districts, but also selected professional groups and other groups. In reality, the Constituent Assembly was completely dominated by the “Chavists”, the late Chávez and thus also Maduro’s supporters. This assembly had, in principle, power over all other institutions in the country. The National Assembly was now deprived of all power, both legislatively and financially. At the same time, many opposition leaders were imprisoned or deprived of the right to pursue politics.
With power now even closer together around President Maduro, both local and state elections were held quickly in 2017. The presidential election, which should have been held in December 2018, was accelerated to May. It had many irregularities, and no international election observation.
Maduro won the election with 64 percent of the vote, but neither the opposition, neighboring countries, the EU or the United States recognized the election. Therefore, they also did not recognize Maduro’s second election mandate, which began on January 10, 2019. According to the constitution, the president of the National Assembly must take over as president for 30 days, before new elections are called, if the country does not have a president who is considered valid. That was the reason why Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly, declared that he was the country’s legitimate president and received support from, among others, the EU countries, Brazil and the USA. China and Russia, on the other hand, disagree with this and insist that it is Maduro who is still the country’s legitimate president.
4: The role of the United States and other foreign actors
There are currently three major powers with special interests in Venezuela today.
The United States has traditionally played an important role in the country, and still has major interests. Until quite recently, Venezuela was the United States’ fourth most important oil supplier. In addition, it is important for security policy for the Americans to stay inside Venezuela due to the country’s long Caribbean coast. Venezuela, for its part, is dependent on the United States both to refine its oil and because it has large debts to private financial institutions in the United States. Nevertheless, relations between the United States and Venezuela have been poor ever since Hugo Chávez came to power. In 2015, the United States declared Venezuela a “national security threat” and a number of sanctions have led to Venezuela not being able to renegotiate its large government debt, which would have been common in crisis situations.
It is China that has saved Venezuela from total economic collapse. China has lent Venezuela about $ 65 billion. Some of the loans are conditional on contracts for Chinese companies in Venezuela’s infrastructure and oil production. Because much is paid off in the form of oil, China has an interest in Venezuela increasing production. Russia is the third great power with interests in Venezuela, as a country located in South America according to COMPUTERGEES.