Venezuela’s Dilemma: Maduro’s Legitimacy

By Francis Northwood (PO ’21)

On February 6th, Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela, directed his military to block the Tienditas bridge in an effort to halt the delivery of USAID aid supplies to the Venezuelan people. More than half of all Venezuelans are unable to meet basic food needs, and the average Venezuelan lost 24 pounds last year. Venezuela currently is facing an 85% shortage of medicine, while many of its hospitals have lost electricity, and 13,000 doctors have left the country in the past four years. This raises questions as to why Maduro has prevented the delivery of medicine and food, in an act sure to worsen the frustration of already angry Venezuelans.

In mid-January, the Venezuelan National Assembly proclaimed that Nicolas Maduro’s reelection was void, and that the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, was President of Venezuela. The National Assembly, backed by the opposition in the country, forced the country into a crisis. The country subsequently entered a state of constant protest, with Guaidó calling on the Venezuelan people to voice their displeasure with Maduro.

The crisis was fomented in large part by the United States, many members of the European Union, and most of South America, which all recognized Guaidó’s claim to the presidency. This is where complications arise around the USAID aid convoy. The aid is being used by the United States to grant Guaidó favor with his people, and to give his legitimacy more traction. This can be best summarized by a tweet by the leader of USAID, Mark Green:

The first truckloads of @USAID humanitarian aid are in #Colombia as the US prepositions relief items intended for the people of #Venezuela. At the request of Interim President @jguaido, we are working to deliver to Venezuelans as soon as possible. #EstamosUnidosVE”

Maduro clearly realizes that the delivery of the aid would weaken his already uncertain grasp on power; yet, many Venezuelans are aware of the fact that Maduro is actively keeping food and medicine out of their hands. So, Maduro is deciding that the control of food and medicine is more valuable than his people thinking that he is depriving them of their most basic needs. While it’s a definite risk, Maduro has attempted to frame the aid convoy as an American attempt at a coup d’état. While this may seem far-fetched, Maduro’s claims allude to a similar crisis from 2002.

In 2002, Venezuela’s then-President Hugo Chávez was ousted in a brief coup d’état that kept Chávez out of office for a mere two days. During this brief period, the United States declared its backing of Pedro Carmona (the leader put in place). After the coup d’état, it was revealed that the attempted overthrow had been backed by members of the Bush Administration, and that within the administration, the notorious Elliot Abrams (one of those convicted in the Iran-Contra Affair) had personally given Carmona his clear approval. The Americans ended up looking foolish, with Hugo Chávez immediately gaining power back—all the while garnering more support and sympathy.

The events of 2002 seem to help somewhat justify Maduro’s claims of American intervention, but in reality the situations are not the same. Fifteen years ago, Chávez had a clear democratic grasp on power, and he had popular support.  Plus, there were fewer doubts about the legitimacy of his election. (Maduro banned many of his opponents from even running). As time passes, Maduro’s hold on power weakens. He is actively withholding food in a country that is starving, and that seems to be where Maduro made a political miscalculation. Quotes like “there is no famine in Venezuela” reveal the true Maduro, the Maduro that made the political miscalculation of choosing a moderate political victory over the health and wellbeing of his people.

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