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Tough times

Fernando Caulyt / sac
August 2, 2013

Over three months after taking office, Venezuela's president still hasn't gotten his country under control. He not only faces relentless opposition, but also critical opponents within his own party and the weak economy.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro gestures during a ceremony to commemorate the late president Hugo Chavez's birthday anniversary, in Caracas, on July 28, 2013. AFP PHOTO/Juan Barreto (Photo credit should read JUAN BARRETO/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Juan Barretoa/AFP/Getty Image

In May of this year, reports of acute shortages of toilet paper in Venezuela circulated in the country's media. The newly elected president Nicolas Maduro was quick to accuse the opposition of planting misleading news. At the same time, he promised that the "revolution" - how the government designates itself since Maduro's predecessor Huge Chavez was in office - would import 50 million roles of the desired paper product in order to pacify the population.

At that time, Maduro had only been in office for a month. Earlier this week, at the festivities celebrating what would have been the 59th birthday of the late revered leader Chavez, Maduro took stock of his term in office.

"It has not been easy," Maduro told a crowd in Sabaneta, Chavez's birthplace. "The battles we have fought out in the past 100 days have been just as difficult as during the election campaign itself."

He was referring to the sharp resistance by the opposition, the accusations of election fraud and protests which claimed the lives of at least 10 people. Still today, the parties around the opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, who lost by a very small margin and claims fraud cost him the election, continue raising their voices.

Venezuela's opposition leader Henrique Capriles talks to supporters in the state of Lara April 11, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Henrique Capriles has yet to concede his defeat in the electionsImage: Reuters

Maduro's opponents regularly raise new accusations against the president and the government. Most recently, Capriles even dispelled doubts about Maduro's Venezuelan nationality.

Government under pressure

A YouTube video demonstrates just how much Maduro's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is under pressure. The footage shows Housing Minister Ricardo Molina shortly after the disputed elections threatening to fire employees who do not demonstrate political loyalty.

"What the labor laws say doesn't matter to me at all," Molina said loudly. "Zero tolerance. I don't accept that anyone bad-mouths the revolution, that anyone bad-mouths Nicolas. They need to quit, because if they don't quit I personally will fire them."

Maduro knows that not all of his comrades are as loyal as Molina. In his 100-day speech, he also addressed the internal power struggle within the PSUV. Without naming any names, Maduro spoke of Chavistas - as Chavez followers call themselves - who were selling themselves "to the enemy." He appealed to the population to teach these disrupters a lesson and say no to the betrayal.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo16ABM_-Mo Molina talks to his staff in a YouTube video
Molina demands complete political loyalty in the YouTube videoImage: Youtube

Ana Soliz Landivar from the GIGA Institute of Latin American Studies in Hamburg said Maduro had also made enemies as a result of his combating corruption.

Petrodollars and the black market

Maduro however has to face other problems as well. In Venezuela's supermarkets there is a lot more missing than toilet paper. The shelves are lacking basic goods such as sugar, flour, cooking oil or poultry. The shortages document Venezuela's nearly stagnant economy.

Analysts regard the persistent extreme dependence on oil as the largest problem for the country's economy. The state-controlled oil company PDVSA generates some 95 percent of Venezuela's total export value. The country needs the currency in order to import food and other consumer goods. Some 70 percent of these products come from abroad.

The Venezuelan central bank quantifies the annual inflation rate at some 40 percent. In order to protect their money against the rising devaluation, many Venezuelans are trying to buy hard currencies like US dollars and euros. But they are - just like the rationed food - extremely rare to come by. A growing black market is the result.

"The country's economic problems are older than Chavismo, but his populist politics made them worse," the Brazilian economist Antonio Carlos Alves dos Santos from the Catholic University in Sao Paulo told DW. Maduro had to create a better climate for the private sector in order to win back confidence and encourage investments.

Nicolas Maduro holds a painting of late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez during a campaign rally in the state of Vargas April 9, 2013. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins (VENEZUELA - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)
Chavez handpicked Maduro to succeed himImage: Reuters

But in order to do so, the president first needed to stabilize his supporter base, said the Brazilian political scientist Thiago Gehre Galvão from the University of Brasilia. "He will have to introduce reforms which go against the interests of the Chavistas," Galvão told DW.

A big act to follow

"Maduro is not Chavez," the media repeatedly quote experts. The statement demonstrates just how much the current president is not considered capable of continuing the "Bolivarian Revolution." The train of thought led by Chavez promotes turning away from neoliberalism towards a solidary economic system.

"Venezuela's economic and institutional crisis already existed under Chavez," GIGA's Soliz Landivar told DW. The same was true for the division within the PSUV. There was, however, one difference.

"Chavez was able to repeatedly reconcile the various groups, thanks to his political aptitude," Soliz Landivar said. "We will have to wait and see whether Maduro will be able to do that as well."