What’s Ahead for Venezuela’s Crisis?

What’s Ahead for Venezuela’s Crisis?
Venezuelan commandos patrol the Antimano neighborhood of Caracas, Jan. 29, 2019 (AP photo by Rodrigo Abd).

There is no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crises that have overwhelmed Venezuela and spilled over into neighboring countries for the past several years. In fact, the protracted fight for control of the country has only meant additional suffering for its citizens, who are already living in the most dire conditions outside of a warzone in recent memory.

Even if the political stalemate were to be broken, there are no easy solutions for fixing the country’s economy, which was too dependent on oil and collapsed as global crude prices fell. But President Nicolas Maduro has shown more interest in consolidating his grip on power than making needed structural changes. The result has been growing shortages of food and basic supplies, widespread power outages and alarming rates of malnutrition. The crisis has also decimated the country’s health care system, leaving Venezuela at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, which further exacerbated all of its challenges.

Former opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to oust Maduro’s government in early 2019 with the backing of the United States appears to have backfired. U.S. support initially helped Guaido succeed in getting himself recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president by governments in the region and around the world. But Guaido and the opposition proved unable to seize power, hardening the Maduro regime’s resolve and ultimately resulting in an impasse. The outcome of sham legislative elections in December 2020, which removed the National Assembly from opposition control, underscored Guaido’s increasing irrelevance. More recently, in late December 2022, the opposition voted to end Guaido’s stint as de jure president, replacing him with a committee of three exiled opposition figures, who will take over the management of the country’s foreign assets.

In the past six years, the country’s internal crisis has spilled out across South America as millions of Venezuelans have now fled the country in search of food and jobs. The exodus has fueled xenophobia and even violence against Venezuelans seeking refuge in neighboring countries. It has also stretched the capacity of regional governments and humanitarian organizations as they attempt to provide aid to Venezuelans fanned out across the region. Although the coronavirus pandemic temporarily halted and even reversed the flow of refugees, it has now begun again, at a time when government resources around the region have been put under strain by the health crisis. As a result, thousands of Venezuelans every month are now heading north through the dangerous Darien Gap, under the mistaken belief they will be able to easily enter the U.S. and claim asylum.

WPR has covered Venezuela in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. What’s ahead for Venezuela’s opposition in the post-Guaido era? Will the U.S. reengage with Maduro now that he seems to have weathered the multiple crises of the past five years? How will the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine affect the Maduro regime’s ability to satisfy its political base and remain unified? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.

Our Most Recent Coverage

A Corruption Scandal Puts Maduro’s Shadowy Fixer in the Spotlight

Tareck El Aissami has resigned as Venezuela’s oil minister after a wave of arrests for alleged corruption at the state-owned oil company. It’s unclear whether the arrests signal an internal power struggle within the regime. But El Aissami, an influential confidant of Nicolas Maduro, likely is an important piece of the puzzle.

Domestic Politics & Economy

Despite widespread support and recognition from the international community, Guaido’s efforts to catalyze a popular uprising against the Maduro regime fizzled, as did his attempts to bring security forces to his side. The sham elections for the National Assembly in December 2020 seemed to signal the end of any realistic possibility that his effort to dislodge Maduro will succeed. Now, having turned the page on the Guaido era, the opposition has set its sights on the presidential election in 2024, in the hopes it will offer another opportunity to publicly challenge the regime’s legitimacy.

U.S. Policy & International Implications

Washington’s backing of the Venezuelan opposition made the country a flashpoint in international relations, as well as in the United States’ domestic politics in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, costing Biden support among Latino voters in Florida and elsewhere. Addressing the failure of U.S. policy on Venezuela amid such a charged domestic political atmosphere will be one of Biden’s many foreign policy challenges. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought backing—and particularly economic support—from both Beijing and Moscow, creating a new arena for competition between the U.S. and its global rivals.

Regional Politics & Refugee Crisis

Even as battle lines have hardened within Venezuela, the country’s political crisis hasn’t spared the region. Neighboring governments largely supported the U.S. push to isolate Maduro. But the humanitarian conditions within Venezuela have fueled a refugee crisis that has consumed government resources and popular goodwill, both of which are in increasingly short supply since the outbreak of the pandemic. And the return of leftist presidents in Chile, Colombia and Brazil has frayed the regional consensus against engaging with the Maduro regime.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.

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