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Venezuela Nicolas Maduro
Image: Reuters/Miraflores Palace

Venezuela's Maduro has lost all legitimacy

January 9, 2019

Up to now, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has at least ruled as an elected leader. As he begins his second term, it seems the last vestiges of democracy in the country are gone, writes DW's Uta Thofern.


Venezuela's last genuinely free elections were held in 2015. The opposition won that vote by a landslide, which international observers interpreted as a glimmer of hope for the country and its run-down economy. But, alas, this optimism did not last long. President Nicolas Maduro and his Chavistas soon began hollowing out the country's democratic institutions — abolishing the rule of law and the separation of power.

Read more: Latin America: A year of movement

First, the Chavistas took control of the Supreme Court. Then, they contested the legality of the opposition's parliamentary majority and gradually started curtailing the legislature's powers. Ultimately, they declared the body superfluous and replaced it with a newly created Constituent Assembly comprised only of hand-picked Maduro loyalists. Venezuela's real parliament, made up of freely elected delegates who can legitimately claim to represent the Venezuelan people, is still permitted to convene, but has been marginalized and stripped of its political power. 

A drawn-out coup d'etat

Perfidiously, Maduro did not initiate a violent coup to abolish democracy overnight, but instead did away with Venezuelan self-determination in a slow, insidious fashion. The ultimate result was a drawn-out coup d'etat that abolished Venezuelan democracy — as the world watched on with growing disbelief. Indeed, Maduro chipped away at parliament's powers over one-and-a-half years, and he cleverly capitalized on the 2017 mass protests as a pretext for further crackdowns.

Thofern, Uta
Uta Thofern heads DW's Latin America section

Dozens of Venezuelans, most of them young people, lost their lives. Many thousands more became disillusioned with Maduro, and millions fled the country. In the past three years, roughly 10 percent of the population has left Venezuela to escape persecution and the growing destitution brought about by government malfeasance. Venezuela, which possesses the world's largest oil reserves, cannot provide its people with enough food and medicine. Perversely, the regime exploits this dire situation by providing regular food deliveries only to registered Chavistas. Apparently, revenue from oil sales and loans from Russia and China just about suffice to subsidize the regime's (purported) supporters.

After installing the omnipotent Constituent Assembly, Maduro went about dividing the opposition and ultimately barred most of his political adversaries from running for office. Finally, he called a snap presidential election in May 2018 and won.

In power thanks to Chavez

Following this dubious election, Maduro is now serving his second term as president. Yet without the explicit backing of his charismatic and popular predecessor, Hugo Chavez, he would never have risen to the post in the first place.

Read more: Nicolas Maduro and Vladimir Putin: United by oil, isolation

There has been growing international protest against Maduro. The country's mass exodus of refugees and economic woes have gained global media attention.  Yet China and Russia are powerful allies of Maduro, and view Venezuela as a Latin American bridgehead. Maduro and his cohorts are desperate to cling to power, in part because they will likely face prosecution if there is a change of government. The odds of this happening, however, are slim. The political landscape on the American continent is in flux and a unified approach towards Maduro appears unlikely. It is doubtful whether right-wing populists such as United States President Donald Trump and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and left-wing leaders such as Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, will see eye-to-eye regarding Maduro.

The political future for Maduro and his clique, therefore, looks bright, unlike that of the Venezuelan people.

Thofern Uta Kommentarbild App
Uta Thofern Head of DW's Latin America departments with a focus on democracy, rule of law and human rights
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