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On April 1st Michael Shifter was interviewed by Melissa Culross and Jon Bristow of KCBS News Radio based in San Francisco. The interview focused on a discussion of the events leading to the reversal of Venezuela’s Supreme Court decision to suspend the legislative powers of the General Assembly. Although many issues remain unsolved, the swift reversal of the decision served as a testament to the power of domestic and international pressures in influencing the government Michael said. Michael also discussed several other problems facing Venezuela such as crime, inadequate resources, and absent rule of law. You can listen to the complete interview below. 

Comments from Michael Shifter: 

“I’m not sure it really is [a victory for democracy]. I think that the government overplayed its hand. Maybe they calculated badly, didn’t expect the reaction, both within Venezuela and, especially, internationally.”

“This doesn’t change the fundamentals in Venezuela; the Assembly still really has very little power, it has been stripped of its authority. It may still exist, it may still make laws, but they’re blocked by the Supreme Court, which is totally controlled by the executive.”

“I think this is a way to try to quiet down some of the criticism. I think the government realized it really went too far, but I don’t think the real fundamental problems and democratic problems in Venezuela are any better today than they were yesterday.”

“We’ve seen the progressive elimination of any trappings of democracy and the government has been very shrewd. This has been a long process that started some seventeen years ago in 1999 with a new constitution and eventually the government decided that this is the way that it was going to operate. They were going to control the courts. … They would pick people on the court that were loyal to them and they would centralize and concentrate power. They have done the same over the electoral council, the armed forces are also with the government now. … That has been the story in Venezuela, and it has been widely documented by human rights groups and other groups. This has been the strategy of this regime to stay in power.”

“There is a meeting tomorrow that has been called by the Organization of American States (OAS) to talk about the Venezuela problem. It was called before they backed off on this initial ruling but it’s going to go forward. There is clearly widespread concern, deep concern. This is a severe not only democratic problem, but this is a humanitarian crisis. People can’t get access to basic goods and they’re standing in long lines and that really is quite a tragic situation.”

“What the international community can do is quite limited. Already the OAS has called for greater dialogue in Venezuela, they’ve called for the release of political prisoners, but these are exhortations to the government, which they so far have ignored.”

“There can be other steps like suspending Venezuela from the OAS, which would be an extreme measure that would carry with it some sanctions, but I don’t think politically the governments of the hemisphere are prepared to go that far at this point. The United States has applied sanctions to senior Venezuelan officials, including the Vice-President of the country for being involved in drug trafficking and the like.”

“These are measures that I think the government can withstand, there’s a lot at stake for this government that’s been in power for so long, that has made a lot of money either through oil or through criminal activity and they’re digging in.”

“There’s no sign that they’re prepared to give up power very easily.”