The economic, political and social crisis of Venezuela has worsened over the last few months. People’s exasperation about food shortages and an inflation rate that hit 180%, has reached the peak. The whole country is waiting for the democratic event that seems to give a chance to change the current situation: the revocatory referendum on the presidential mandate of Nicolás Maduro, which was promoted by the political opposition last April.
President Nicolás Maduro won the elections in April 2013, thanks to the wave of emotion caused by the death of Hugo Chávez, occurred on the 5th of March of the same year. Even though Chávez appointed Maduro as his ideal successor, he immediately showed less charisma than its predecessor. In 2013 Maduro won the presidential elections obtaining a 50,61% of the votes, while the opposition’s candidate Capriles Radonski obtained the 49,12% of the votes. However, from that moment Maduro’s consensus started deteriorating. The most significant evidence of that loss of consensus are the frequent protests organized by the opposition as well as the elections for the National Assembly that took place on the 6th of December. On that occasion the opposition united in the MUD (Mesa de Unidad Democrática) obtained 109 seats out of 167.
Venezuelan Constitution, which was adopted in 1999 during Chavez’s presidency, stipulates, under article 72, that any elective office may be revoked by a popular referendum, after half of its mandate has passed. For this reason, in April Venezuelan opposition presented at the National Electoral Council (CNE) a referendum request on the presidential mandate. According to Venezuelan law, the procedure to organize a revocatory referendum consists of 4 phases. The first requirement has already been met, it is the submission of the request to the CNE. The second one is the collection of the 1% of signatures of the total number of people registered in the electoral lists (197.978 signatures). The 10th of June the President of CNE, Tibisay Lucena, declared that the opposition presented more that 1 million and 900 thousand signatures, and that 605 thousand of those were considered invalid (the CNE affirmed that those signatures were repeated more than once or they referred to dead people). Nevertheless the opposition obtained that 1 million and 352 thousand signatures were validated by the CNE. This allowed the CNE to move on to the third phase that is going to take place from the 20th of June to the 26th of July. During the third part of the process, the opposition will be required to collect the 20% of signatures of citizens registered in the electoral lists for a minimum of approximately 3 million and 900 thousand signatures. After that, it will be possible to schedule the date of the revocatory referendum. Venezuelan citizens will be able to revoke Maduro’s mandate if at least the same number of people who voted for him in the elections of 2013 it is no longer supporting him.
Meanwhile, the tension is increasing as well as the concrete risk of confrontations between chavistas and the opposition supporters. For this reason, the CNE’s President called on all political forces to not to use violence, declaring that in the event of an incident the CNE will halt the referendum process.
The country’s instability is mainly caused by the reduction of oil price in the international market. In fact, Venezuela is deeply dependant on oil exports. According to OPEC, Venezuela possesses the major oil reserves in the world, and it is among the 10 major oil producers. However, the country has not been able to obtain great benefits from this resource. The opposite political factions are blaming each other for the alarming situation in the country. On the one hand the opposition argues that the crisis is due to the bad policies implemented by the Socialist Party, which has been ruling the country since 17 years. On the other hand the government blames the economic élites for halting the production of goods in order to destabilize the government and convince people to sustain a regime change. As regards this issue, Maduro usually affirms in his speeches that the Venezuelan élites are conspiring with the United States by organizing an “economic war” to overthrow the government. In addition to that, another phenomenon contributed to worsen the crisis, a drought called Niño. This phenomenon reduced the functioning of the hydroelectric plants in the country, which provide the country with roughly the 70% of the electricity needed. For this reason the government decided to impose energy saving measures, such as a reduction in the opening hours of public offices.
Venezuela’s priority is to achieve conciliation, to find a compromise for the collective wealth, to overcome the violent opposition between the two political factions and to adopt measures in order to address the fundamental problems of the country. These are the high crime rate, the huge inequality between social classes, the lack of good public services (education and healthcare) and the corruption. The creation of a more extended medium class, by an attenuation of economic, social and cultural differences among the population, would solve the first and the second problem as well as it would reduce the violent political environment. Moreover, a more equal distribution of wealth would determine an increase in the consumption and it would support the birth of new businesses, bolstering the economic recovery.
In conclusion, Maduro’s government has lost the support of the majority of the Venezuelan population. If the general discontent won’t have the possibility to be expressed through the revocatory referendum, there is a concrete risk of a turmoil similar to the one occurred in 1989 (the “Caracazo”). The opposition is likely to succeed in revoking Maduro’s mandate. In that case the opposition would retake the power after 17 years of socialist government. However, these years of violent confrontations will leave open wounds on the skin of Venezuelans that remain divided into two separate blocks. The real challenge will be to cure this wound, which has been opened since a long time.