Latin America Advisor

A Daily Publication of The Dialogue

Is Chavismo Coming to an End?

Presidency of Venezuela / CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Q: A Datanalisis survey published May 5 by El Universal showed growing impatience among Venezuelans for President Nicolás Maduro's government. Sixty percent of those surveyed disapproved of Maduro's administration, while 80 percent thought the country was going in the wrong direction. What factors are driving those poll numbers, and will Maduro continue losing support among Venezuelans? Might he be forced out of office before his term is scheduled to expire in 2019? Is Chavismo coming to an end, and what would most likely replace it? A: Otto Reich, president of Otto Reich Associates LLC, former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs and former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela: "In his previous life, Nicolás Maduro was a municipal bus driver. In his current job, Maduro is driving Venezuela off a cliff. There are many factors driving his government's negative poll numbers: industrial-scale corruption, gross human rights abuses, shortages of food and medicines, a politicized justice and law enforcement system, and the overbearing presence of a foreign power, Cuba, dominating official decisions. In 2013, Venezuela was ranked 160th of 176 nations on the Corruption Perceptions Index. Venezuela is rife with organized crime and black market activities. This week brought reports of fights among shoppers trying to buy scarce loaves of bread. What else could be expected of a socialist government? Milton Friedman was only half-joking when he said that if socialists were put in charge of the Sahara desert, there would soon be a shortage of sand. Venezuela, the nation with the world's biggest oil reserves, has been turned into an economic basket case. There is no bread, but there are plenty of circuses, some say because the show is run by clowns. But these are abusive clowns, not funny ones. The repression-cum-incompetence should be no surprise since the model followed by Chávez and Maduro is Castro's Cuba, an organized crime state. Whether this chaos will lead to Maduro's replacement by a democratic government depends on the Venezuelan people. Sadly, they cannot count on any of their Latin American neighbors or the OAS for support. They are either bought through oil subsidies, or afraid of left-wing violence within their borders if they challenge Castro, Venezuela's true ruler. The United States has withdrawn from the region under the pretext that it does not want to 'bilateralize' any dispute, ignoring the fact that all U.S. adversaries in the region bilateralized their hostility before we did. Venezuela is a warning for those who criticize the United States for being the 'policeman of the world.' There we are seeing what happens when the police abandon a violent neighborhood to the criminals. The criminals run amok in the streets." A: Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue: "The survey results are not surprising. It is hard to find many people who believe that Venezuela is going in the right direction and that the Maduro administration is performing well. Even many of those who back the government do so because they fear that the alternative would be less advantageous for them and some of the benefits gained over the past decade or so would, in that scenario, be rolled back. But there is scant confidence in Maduro's ability to manage the government effectively. Datanalisis surveys also show that spreading concerns about rampant shortages of basic goods have overtaken security as the chief worry of most Venezuelans. There are no signs that the government is seriously prepared to pursue a more productive set of policies to put the country on a reasonably sound course. At the same time, however, Maduro, who has so far managed to retain support of the armed forces and contain the jockeying for power within the government, will probably hold on for the short-term. But if the situation becomes even more acute over the next several years, street protests can be expected to mount, posing a more serious challenge to Maduro's rule. A number of scenarios are feasible, including a recall referendum in 2016. Maduro could even complete his term, though in light of current dynamics, that won't be easy. Chavismo under Maduro has proved more ephemeral and has faded more quickly than many analysts expected. What replaces it is anyone's guess at this point." A: Daniel Hellinger, professor of political science at Webster University in St. Louis: "Datanalisis' finding that overwhelmingly Venezuelans think the country is 'headed in the wrong direction' is probably about the only consensus about anything in the country these days. Who in the world were the 18.5 percent thinking that things were going well? Delving deeper into its findings and those of Hinterlaces, which released results around the same time, shows that the news is not so good for either side of the political divide. Hinterlaces did find more approval for Maduro (52 percent) than did Datananalsis (37 percent). The latter might be closer to the mark, but surprisingly Datanalisis found that only 31.8 percent of respondents mainly blamed Maduro for the country's problems, and 70 percent opposed removing him by force. Hinterlaces found that 73 percent of those polled in middle class areas of Caracas reject the opposition tactic of street barricades. But Maduro still has reason to worry. Datanalisis found that three in five Venezuelans think he will not complete his term, which is supposed to run through 2019--and only about half of the Chavistas think he will make it that far. A coup is not likely proximate, but there are signs of unease in the ranks. Venezuelans will probably limp to next year's National Assembly elections, but elections will not settle the country's polarized situation. Venezuelans are clearly distressed that the talks seeking a resolution of the crisis have shown little progress. Those who might take political advantage of Maduro's weakness may not be limited only to opposition parties." A: David Smilde, senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America: "The fieldwork for this poll was done as dialogue between the government and opposition gained inertia and street protests diminished. This seems to have refocused people on the poor economy. Of the top five most important problems respondents mentioned, four were economic, accounting for 51 percent of the total. Food scarcities and inflation topped the list. In contrast, less than 10 percent mentioned in some way the government's heavy-handed response to the protests. Since the economy will get worse before it gets better, President Maduro's job approval could well drop to the bedrock 25-30 percent of the population that solidly identifies with Chavismo. Unless his government turns the economy around over the next two years, he could lose a recall referendum which will become available in 2016. An incredible 59 percent of respondents say they don't think Maduro should finish his term, including 15 percent of government supporters. While this spells trouble for the Maduro government, it will not mean the end of Chavismo as a political force. Most average Venezuelans remember Hugo Chávez as someone who delivered on his promise to raise their standards of living. What is more, the last time they saw him alive was in December 2012, a year that saw 5 percent economic growth. This reinforces their perception that the precipitous decline of the Venezuelan economy is the fault of Maduro rather than the unsustainable economic policies he inherited. And this perception will continue to contribute to Chávez's long-term symbolic glorification."

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