Venezuela: The Failure of the Bolivarian Process

16th August 2018

By Edgardo Lander* 

The Bolivarian process in Venezuela, starting with the election of Hugo Chávez in 1998, began at a critical moment in the history of the country. Venezuela was going through a severe economic crisis with an unstable and deeply delegitimized political system that was exhausted after two decades of the rentier oil model and its patronage estate. Chávez’s proposals and rhetoric managed to create a sense of direction, a collective hope that another future for society was possible.

During the first decade of Chávez’s administration, important changes took place in Venezuela. A constituent process was carried out which ended with the approval, by referendum, of a new constitution. This constitution established a wide range of forms of participatory democracy aimed at deepening democracy rather than replacing representative democracy. At a time when a strong neoliberal political and social wave was emerging throughout the continent, economic and cultural rights were constitutionalized. Some of these rights included free education at all levels, free access to public health services, land rights for indigenous groups, etc. These rights came with an increase in government control over the oil industry and other basic industries within the country.

With greater public control over oil revenues and a sustained increase in hydrocarbon prices, tax revenues increased substantially. There was a strong reorientation of public spending towards social policies, the so-called misiones (missions), directed primarily at the most disadvantaged segments of Venezuelan society. Social security coverage was expanded extraordinarily. As a result of these policies and a sustained economic growth for several years, both poverty and extreme poverty levels (measured by monetary income) and inequality indices were significantly reduced. All main social indicators such as school enrollment, nutrition levels, and infant mortality also improved.

There were profound changes in the lower-class political culture. From generalized apathy and distance in relation to a discredited political system in which all sense of community had disappeared, even from a rhetorical point of view, a new condition of optimism, dignity and conviction emerged towards the belief that collective mobilization and organization would help build a better future. Rich and varied processes of grassroots organization started to develop, such as Technical Water Roundtables, Community Water Councils (Mesas Técnicas de Agua, Consejos Comunitarios de Agua), Urban Land Committees, Health Committees, and subsequently, Communal Councils and Communes, which together involved millions of people. For more than a decade Chávez’s administration enjoyed high levels of legitimacy among lower-class Venezuelans and won successive elections between 1998 and 2012.

In Latin America, the examples and initiatives of the Bolivarian administration played a significant role in the emergence of the so-called progressive governments present in most of South America. Their initiatives were important both in the defeat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), the neoliberal constitutional order that the United States government intended to impose on the entire continent, and in the creation of new Latin American solidarity and integration mechanisms: UNASUR, CELAC, ALBA and Petrocaribe.

This extraordinary process of change became a global reference, a beacon of hope for Latin American peoples and movements, as well as for remote communities such as the Palestinian refugee camps in Beirut and social movements in India and Southeast Asia.

As expected, as part of a political process defined as anti-imperialist and later as socialist, all these years the Bolivarian project faced external pressure and threats coming from the global right, especially the government of the United States. From its beginning, Chavez’s administration faced imperialist actions aimed at removing him from office. The government of the United States has at all times politically and financially supported the attempts of the Venezuelan right wing to oust him, beginning with the April 2002 coup d’état and the oil-lockout strike that practically paralyzed the country for two months between 2002 and 2003.

More recently, Barack Obama, just before leaving office, renewed an executive order declaring Venezuela an “unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” [2] In August 2017, Donald Trump threatened Venezuela with a US military intervention in the following terms:

We have many options for Venezuela, this is our neighbor (…) We’re all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very far away, Venezuela is not very far away and the people are suffering and dying. We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary. [3]

A new step was taken in August 2017 when Donald Trump ordered a financial blockade to Venezuela. This has had a broader effect well beyond the United States as many banks in other countries, especially the European Union, have suspended their operations with Venezuela fearing retaliation from the US government. Lacking cooperative banks in the United States and the European Union, the government has faced great difficulties when importing products (including food and medicine), accessing new credit sources and paying its foreign debt. Unlike previous sanctions targeted at some high government officials, these economic/financial sanctions directly affect the majority of the population.

The parliamentary coup d’état in Brazil and Macri’s election victory in Argentina, and, in general, the political shift in Latin America towards neoliberalism and the alliance with the United States, have significantly disturbed the continental context in which the Bolivarian process have operated until recently, leading to growing and severe

isolation, not only internationally, but also in Latin America. The Venezuelan government not only lacks the Latin American support it had previously, but it also faces systematic attacks by most of the members of the Organization of American States and constant pressure from the so-called Lima Group.

Limitations, contradictions and internal vulnerabilities of the Bolivarian process

However, this profoundly adverse context is by no means sufficient to explain the deep multidimensional crisis that the country is currently going through. As further analyzed below, both the recession and the steady decrease in oil production began in 2014, three years before the financial sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. This political process was embedded, from its inception, in deep contradictions and internal vulnerabilities, which became more evident with time. This meant that, beyond the grandiloquent speeches, its capacity to resist external constraints was limited. Some of the main constraints are:

-The contradictions between a project self-denominated as anti-capitalist and multicultural, on the one hand, and its extreme emphasis on rentierism and oil and mining extraction, along with a deepening insertion of a raw material exporting model that becomes part of the global regime of the international division of labor and nature.

-The extraordinary dependence on one single front man, Hugo Chávez, as an unquestioned charismatic leader of the Bolivarian process had extremely contradictory consequences. On the one hand, Chávez’s remarkable leadership skills enabled the political-cultural fractures that characterized the first phases of the Bolivarian process, thus breaking the iron cage of a society that, despite going through a deep economic crisis and having a deeply delegitimized political system, had no mass mobilization capacity or possibilities of credible change. Chavez managed to break away from the lethargy, apathy and resignation of lower-class people by offering a new direction, a new path that could catch people’s social imagination. But, on the other hand, the Venezuelan process also experienced the negative consequences of having a one-man type of leadership. This model of leadership ends up deifying the leader and requires unconditional support. In this context, critical debate becomes an obstacle and dissenting voices are marginalized. Consequently, the possibility of open debates and exploration of alternative options is diminished. In these conditions it should not be surprising that many of Chávez’s decisions were improvised and ended up having a negative impact on the country. When analyzing the continuity of the Bolivarian process, this type of ubiquitous leadership blocks the emergence of alternative leaderships, so the absence of the supreme leader jeopardizes the entire change project.

-The strain between the social imagination, the methods used by grassroots power and self-organization from the bottom, on the one hand, and Leninist-inspired policies of control from the top and all main decisions being made by the upper members of the state/party which are then informed to the population through radio and television broadcasts. As a consequence, trust in the capacities of the grassroots movements to rule themselves is undermined. In these years, there has been a strong contradiction between the fostering and promotion of multiple forms of popular grassroots organizations, and the establishment of vertical control structures of such organizations, as well as the generation of permanent financial dependence on the State, thus undermining the possibilities of these organizations to be autonomous.

-Likewise, there have been severe limitations on the social transformation process, which has focused mainly on political, organizational and institutional dynamics, without a corresponding modification of the economic structure of society. Steps are taken towards greater political democracy, but without democracy in the production field. Without their own production structure, grassroots organizations cannot stop depending on the State. As a consequence, the top-down rentier and clientelist State-centered rationale of this society is accentuated, which prevents democracy from developing.

-The contradiction between the expansion of democracy and the promotion of its participatory methods, on the one hand, and on the other, a military culture of non-deliberative and vertical command that has provided a strong military presence in all areas of the State (ministries, institutions and public companies, governorships, mayorships) and of the ruling party.

-There were severe consequences of the fact that, in the name of “The Revolution”, the limits between the public-state sector and the political-partisan aspect became unclear. When one considers that the limits between the public-state sector and the political-partisan aspect constitute liberal divisions that must be overcome in time of “revolution”, the border between what is public and what is private also fades away. Consequently, the institutional and political conditions for significant corruption, an outstanding characteristic of the Bolivarian government at all levels, arise at all levels.

-The conception and practice of politics as a confrontation between friend and enemy ended up generating a culture of sectarianism, distrust and non-recognition of others in the Venezuelan society, which greatly hinders the possibilities of dialogue and agreement, albeit minimal, given the deep humanitarian crisis in the country.

The basic structural condition of Venezuelan society, a fundamental defining aspect of the severe economic, political and cultural difficulties it has been facing for decades, is the terminal crisis of its rentier oil model, its high dependence on the export of a single product, and a centralizing and clientelist state model. During the years of the Chávez administration, beyond the rhetoric, no initial steps were taken towards a post-oil Venezuela, and oil dependence deepened even more, until it accounted for 96% of the total value of the country’s exports. Non-oil exports and private

sector exports were reduced in different degrees. The increase in domestic demand, which occurred as a result of public policies aimed at increasing the purchasing power of the population, did not come with an increase in agricultural and industrial production, but by means of continuously increased imports. An extraordinarily overvalued exchange rate deepened the historic Dutch disease. Importing goods from abroad has been cheaper than producing them in the country, trade and finance have been more profitable than agricultural or industrial activities. All this accentuated the vulnerability of the economy and increased its dependence on oil revenues. Both social policies, which for a few years had such a significant impact on the living conditions of the lower-class sectors, and Latin American solidarity initiatives, have depended on oil income. It was basically a distributive political model. The only significant modification of the production structure of the country was its progressive deterioration.

After the Bolivarian process was defined as socialist in 2006 and 2007, and after a strong Cuban influence, socialism was identified with statism. In the total absence of an informed and critical balance on the consequences that the intention of controlling the entire economic activity from the State had in Cuba, a fact now being questioned in the constitution currently debated in that country, a very wide range of agriculture, industrial, service and commercial businesses became state enterprises, an estimated total of 526. [4] Most of them were managed inadequately, with limited investment and generalized clientelism and corruption. They lacked income required for maintenance and technology upgrading. The blatantly distorted price structure of the Venezuelan economy (a cup of coffee in a cafe would cost, by mid-2018, as much as 250,000 liters of 95-octane gasoline) has affected public and private companies alike. The same happens with inflation and hyperinflation which prevent the economic calculation required for managing any production unit. These companies were managed by “politically reliable people”, often military, even if they had no knowledge in the field. Most of these businesses – from the large steel and aluminum factories to small food companies – started suffering financial losses and could only continue operating thanks to the economic contributions made by the State from the oil income. When the State can no longer provide that income, those companies fall into a deeper crisis.

The private sector is not in a better condition. According to the latest survey carried out by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Conindustria, by mid-2017, only 45% of the industrial capacity available was being used. [5] By mid-2018, this figure had dropped significantly.

The economic crisis

There is no up-to-date official information to analyze the current state of the economy in Venezuela Most of the statistics disclosed by the Central Bank of Venezuela and the National Institute of Statistics, in charge of the national statistics system, are between three and four years behind schedule. [6] Clearly, the government has decided not to disclose the information that would confirm the depth of the economic crisis. The calculations disseminated by economic analysts, the academia, business associations and international institutions show great variations.

In recent years, the Venezuelan economy saw a decline even greater than that experienced during the oil strike –

business lock out of 2002-2003. GDP has fallen for four consecutive years: 2014 (-3.9%), 2015 (-6.2%), 2016

(-16.5%) [7]. The IMF estimates it was -12% for 2017, which means that by the end of the year, Venezuelan GDP is only 66% of what it was in 2013. Given that the crisis has deepened in 2018, according to some projections it is probable that by the end of 2018 the GDP will be almost half it was in 2013. That is a catastrophic decline.

During these years there has been a significant fiscal deficit in the public sector: 2012 (15.1%); 2013 (13.2%); 2014 (8.8%); 2015 (10.3%); 2016 (17%). [8] Inflation in 2017 exceeded 2,000%, beginning a period of hyperinflation. In mid-2018 inflation was more than 100% per month. The IMF estimates that by the end of 2018 annual inflation will have reached one million percent. [9]

Aside from widespread speculation, the lack of foreign currency and the structural imbalances between the supply of goods, services and currency in accelerated decline as consumption expectations can hardly adapt to these new conditions, a substantial cause of hyperinflation has been the massive and growing printing of inorganic money by the Central Bank of Venezuela in order to guarantee the expansion of public spending and the government’s clientelist policies under conditions of severe fiscal deficit. In May 2018, after three years of recession, money supply was 509 times higher than that of May 2015. This uncontrolled expansion of the money supply has been accelerating. Between January and May 2018, the country’s monetary supply multiplied sevenfold, from 177 to 1,255 billion bolivars. [10] Printed money has been left far behind, generating a severe cash shortage. While traditionally circulating paper currency has accounted for 13-14% of the money supply, today it does not reach 2%. The lack of cash has become an additional difficulty the population faces every day. Banks allow customers to withdraw very restricted amounts of money each day, and there are expenses, such as urban and interurban transportation that can only be paid in cash. That usually requires customers to buy cash through bank transfers with fees of up to 200% and 300%.

The total value of exports fell from 98,877 million dollars in 2012 to 27,407 million dollars in 2016. In a country completely dependent on imports, between 2012 and 2016, these fell from 65,951 million dollars to 16,370 million dollars, a 75% drop [11], with a severe impact on the overall economic activity due to a lack of supplies and spare parts. The impact on food, medicine and transportation availability has been particularly dramatic.

As of 2015, there is a deficit in the current account. [12] International reserves fell from 35 billion dollars in 2009 to 8.7 billion dollars in July 2018. [13] The total foreign debt is estimated at 184,500 billion dollars, not including “commercial debt commitments, a debt to PDVSA suppliers, a debt for nationalizations, commitments with multilaterals, among others.” [14] This is twenty times greater than the country’s total international reserves and represents almost seven times the total amount of exports in 2016, as there is no updated information about the following years. Although there

were years when oil prices were very high, the foreign debt per capita went from 1,214 dollars in 1999 to 3,916 dollars in 2017. [15] The fact that the government has given priority to timely payment of this debt over the most urgent food and health needs of the population has been a fundamental factor in the current social crisis. [16]

China and Russia have been the main sources of external financing during the years of the Bolivarian process. However, by mid-2018, the country’s struggle to pay that debt is such that these countries apparently are no longer willing to continue supplying fresh money.

The oil industry

The collapse of oil prices, which went from an average of $100 per barrel between 2012 and 2014, to an average of $41 per barrel in 2015, was a fundamental cause of the economic crisis in the country. However, this factor is by no means sufficient to explain the crisis. No other oil country has experienced a similar deterioration in these years. On the other hand, oil prices have been increasing, and reached over $66 per barrel in mid-2018, a price higher than the average during the fourteen years of the Chávez administration.

Beyond oil prices, the oil industry is essentially collapsing, revealing dramatically some of the main contradictions and distortions of the Bolivarian process. While the national government had set a target for 2019 to increase oil production to six million barrels per day, according to the OPEC monthly statistics bulletin from June 2018, the Venezuelan production (according to secondary sources) had fallen to one million three hundred and forty thousand barrels per day, [17] only 44% of the production level in 2009 and the lowest level in decades. This collapse in production has nothing to do with the intention to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, nor with OPEC policies aimed at protecting oil prices. There is an extraordinary disparity between the production goals that the government has established and the production levels it has achieved.

Volume of real and “planned” oil production

(2002/2019)

Source: Carlos Mendoza Potellá. PDVSA “Task overload or management issue? Myths and realities of PDVSA management”, Forum: PDVSA recovery and the future of Venezuelan oil. ILDIS, Friedrich Ebert, Caracas, May 10, 2018]

Not all the oil that is exported translates into new revenues since a significant proportion of these exports are aimed at paying the oil debt that Venezuela has with China. Refineries are operating so precariously that they no longer have the capacity to supply the domestic market. In recent years, PDVSA’s operation expenses have increased with a subsequent reduction in the tax share of the company’s total revenues. [18] According to the latest publication of PDVSA Consolidated Financial Statements for 2016, its net profits plummeted from more than 9 billion dollars in 2014 to 828 million dollars in 2016. [19]

There are many causes of the deterioration of the company and the collapse of production, which include, in addition to the external factors mentioned above, management incompetence that has led to inefficiency and improvisation, corruption, scandalous price premiums in its operation, continued outflow of qualified personnel and limited investments in maintenance and technology. The almost free distribution of gasoline in the domestic market, and the subsequent massive smuggling of extracted products cause losses of billions of dollars a year for the national budget. PDVSA’s decapitalization process caused by the national government has been systematic, forcing the company to hand over its foreign currency to the Central Bank at an exchange rate with an extraordinary and unsustainable overvaluation of the bolivar. To continue operating, starting in 2007, the company began increasing their external debt. In 2017, it owed a total of 71,000 million dollars. [20], a debt that the company is unable to pay, which critically brings it close to a bankruptcy that would jeopardize its facilities abroad, especially CITGO, its subsidiary in the United States.

The strategic decision of the Bolivarian government to prioritize the development of heavy and extra heavy oils from the Orinoco Oil Belt over traditional fields had enormous consequences not only for the oil industry, but also for the present and future of the country. Megalomaniac dreams aimed at making Venezuela a Great Energy World Power, based on the largest hydrocarbon reserves on the planet, led to having the future of the country rest on the exponential development of oil fields on the Orinoco Belt. Those are mostly heavy and extra-heavy oils that would require, for the expected production levels, technology and investment the country does not have, especially if, as stated in the Constitution of 1999, participation of transnational corporations was to be limited. Investments in oil in the Belt would

only be profitable if oil prices were kept close to one hundred dollars per barrel and if we were to assume that using oil as a fuel was guaranteed in the very long term.

Meanwhile, a high proportion of traditional oil fields were neglected or abandoned, with lighter crude oils and much lower operating costs. These are mature wells, many of which have been operating for decades, but still had enough reserves to provide more modest levels of production during the time required to make the transition to a non-rentier economy, not dependent on fossil fuel extraction. At the moment, the country does not produce light oil for the blends required to exploit heavy and extra-heavy oil reserves, nor enough fuel to meet the demands of the domestic market. During this economic/financial strangulation, they have to be imported, almost all from the United States.

Beyond the economic calculation, the fundamental problem with this huge project is the extreme environmental damage generated by this scale of production of a highly polluting fossil fuel when a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions has to occur in the very short term in order to preserve life on planet Earth. Despite the fact that these are widely known facts, in the name of 21st century anti-capitalism and socialism, and despite all the documents and declarations it has made in defense of the planet, the Bolivarian government has set production levels that undermine the conditions that make life possible.

Corruption emerges across the industry. Sub-contracts with overpricing – and additional fees- even in operations that could be carried out by the company itself, became widespread practice. In the last months of 2017, around 69 industry managers were arrested due to corruption accusations, including PDVSA’s former president, the former Minister of Oil and Energy, and part of CITGO management team, its subsidiary operating in the United States. [21] These accusations -related to massive scale acts long known in the country- were uncovered as a result of increasingly virulent confrontations within the government and PSUV party. However, there have not been similar public accusations in other areas of the economy where embezzlements have been carried out against the country, such as in the corrupt transfer of highly subsidized currencies, in food imports and in the illicit actions that caused the country’s massive indebtedness. Unlike in other countries in the continent, and despite the major role Odebrecht played in the construction of infrastructure during all the Bolivarian process years, and the fact that a good part of these works was paralyzed, none of the corrupt activities of the said company and its government counterparts have been investigated. [22]

Without such monumental embezzlement that occurred during these years, surely the economic situation of the country would be different today.

The Orinoco Mining Arc

In the face of the sustained deterioration of oil revenues, instead of seeking alternative options to the primary rentier export approach that has caused so much damage to the country, the Venezuelan government clearly decided to develop it even more, now through large-scale mining. With that in mind, in February 2016, Maduro issued the Orinoco Mining Arc Decree, by which 112 thousand square kilometers, 12% of the national territory, a surface equivalent to that of Cuba, are opened for the international mining industry. This large area is rich in minerals, such as, gold, coltan, aluminum, diamonds, and radioactive minerals. The government has mainly focused on gold exploitation. According to the former Minister of Oil and Mining and president of PDVSA, Eulogio Del Pino, it is estimated that gold reserves in the area would be 7,000 tons, which would account for 280,000 million dollars. [23]

The area defined as Orinoco Mining Arc can provide more socio-environmental and even economic resources than the potential monetary value coming from mining reserves. It is part of the ancestral territory of indigenous peoples such as Warao, E’Ñepa, Hoti, Pumé, Mapoyo, Kariña, Piaroa, Pemón, Ye’kwana and Sanema, whose livelihoods would be devastated by mining exploitation, not only clearly violating the constitutional rights of these peoples, [24] but also with ethnocide threats. It is a part of the Amazon region that plays a critical role in regulating the planet’s climate and its preservation is vital to slow down climate change. This territory has extraordinary biological diversity and is the main source of water Venezuela has. It accommodates the hydroelectric dams that supply more than 70% of the power consumed in the country.

By enhancing the extractivist approach, preference has been given to obtaining monetary income in the short term, even if this implies irreversible socio-environmental devastation. All this is done by presidential decree in total absence of public debate, in a country whose constitution defines it as democratic, participatory, multiethnic and pluricultural.

This decree constitutes a clear violation of environmental rights and responsibilities specifically established by the Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, by current environmental legislation and by international agreements signed by the country such as the Convention on Biological Diversity. Likewise, the Indigenous Peoples Habitat and Lands Demarcation and Protection Act (January 2001) and the Indigenous Peoples and Communities Act (LOPCI, December 2005) are also violated. These violations affect all the provisions on prior and informed consultation undeniably established in both Venezuelan and international legislation (ILO Convention 169), for cases where activities that could negatively impact the habitats of these peoples are planned.

“Private, state and joint ventures” are to take part in the Mining Arc project. The decree contemplates a wide range of public incentives for these mining corporations, such as flexibility of legal regulations, simplification and swift administrative procedures, non-requirement of certain legal conditions foreseen in the Venezuelan legislation, creation of “preferential financing mechanisms”, and a special customs system with preferential tariffs and tariff-related fees for imports. They would also have a special tax regime that provides total or partial exemption from payment of income tax and value added tax:

Article 21: Within the framework of the sectoral economic policy, the National Executive may grant total or partial exemptions from Income Tax and Value Added Tax, applicable exclusively to activities related to mining, in order to foster development and growth of the National Strategic Development Area Orinoco Mining Arc.

Likewise, joint ventures established for developing primary activities, provided for in the Decree acting as Organic Law that assigns Gold Exploration and Exploitation activities to the State, as well as those related to and supporting those activities, on the sites located in the National Strategic Development Area Orinoco Mining Arc will enjoy these benefits for the duration of the project. [25]

The possibilities of challenging the negative impacts of the large mining industry in the Mining Arc area are prohibited by the decree regulations. In order to prevent the companies’ activities from being hindered by groups against them, a Strategic Development Zone was created under the responsibility of the Bolivarian National Military Force:

Article 13: The Bolivarian National Military Force, along with the organized People’s Power (Poder Popular), and in coordination with the authorities of the Ministry of People’s Power with competence in oil matters, will be responsible for safeguarding, protecting and maintaining smooth continuity of operations and activities of the Strategic Industries located in the National Strategic Development Zone of Orinoco Mining Arc …

The decree in question explicitly establishes the suspension of civil and political rights throughout the Mining Arc area.

Article 25: No personal, guild, union, association or group interest, or their regulations can prevail over the general interest in serving the purpose of this decree.

Those who carry out or promote material actions to obstruct the total or partial operations of the production activities of the Strategic Development Zone created in this decree will be sanctioned according to the applicable legal system.

The state security agencies will carry out the immediate actions necessary to safeguard normal development of the activities foreseen in the Plans of the Strategic Development Zone of Orinoco Mining Arc, as well as the implementation of the provisions of this article. [26]

The consequences of this “Prevalence of the general interest over personal interests” are extraordinarily serious. “General interests” is understood as mining exploitation as it is conceived in this presidential decree. All other views, all other interests, including appeals to the Constitution, are defined as a “personal interests”, and are therefore subject to the “state security agencies” carrying out “the immediate actions necessary to safeguard the normal development of activities foreseen” in the decree.

But what are or can be the interests referred to here as “personal”? The decree is written in such a way as to allow a broad interpretation. On the one hand, it explicitly defines trade union and guild interests as “personal”. This can undoubtedly lead to the suspension, in the whole zone, of workers’ rights established in the Constitution, and in the Organic Labor Act.

Does this also mean that “trade union” rights, and therefore “personal” rights of journalists to report on the development of mining activities are suspended? Are the rights of indigenous peoples, according to this, personal interests?

As it will be specified below, by mid-2018, large transnational investments expected by the government had not yet arrived, mainly due to the lack of legal stability. However, illegal gold and coltan mining is expanding rapidly with the participation of tens of thousands of miners. This great area of the national territory has become a territory outside the State, beyond any legal system. Armed groups, paramilitary groups, ELN members, FARC dissidents, criminal gangs called “unions”, control different areas within these territories and set the prices at which they force miners to sell the extracted minerals. All this takes place in complicity with members of the Venezuelan armed forces. This illegal mining activity operates with high levels of violence. There are frequent deaths of miners due to territorial disputes, with severe socio-environmental impacts. Mercury is massively used for gold mining. Large concentrations of this metal have been found in mothers and children’s bodies in the area. Indigenous girls are kidnapped in their communities and forced into prostitution in the mining camps.

The authoritarian tendencies of Maduro administration

In the parliamentary elections of December 2015, the opposition, organized as the Democratic Unity Coalition (Mesa de Unidad Democrática, MUD), won the elections by a large majority, obtaining 56.26% of the votes against 40.67% for the ruling government. [27] As a result of an unconstitutional electoral action designed to over-represent the majority when Chavismo was ruling, the opposition obtained a total of 112 parliamentarians, thereby achieving a two-thirds majority in the Assembly. Previous Chavismo support from most of the lower-class sectors had broken down, so the opposition won in many areas that previously had overwhelmingly voted for the ruling administration. With this supermajority, the opposition could appoint the members of the Supreme Court of Justice, of the National Electoral Council and approve organic laws without having to negotiate with government representatives. The previous control of all public institutions (Executive, Legislative, Judicial, Electoral, and Citizen Power, 20 out of 23 governorships and a great majority of municipalities) now became a duality of powers which could threaten a constitutional crisis.

The Maduro administration thus faced a serious dilemma. If it were to recognize the results of the parliamentary elections and the new political dynamics which demonstrated that it no longer had the support of the majority of the population, Maduro and his administration would necessarily have to negotiate with the opposition forces. If the constitution was maintained and the electoral results respected, Maduro could not be guaranteed to stay in power. He clearly decided that state control must be maintained at all costs, even if this meant ignoring the Constitution and the will of most voters.

Step by step the government took measures to maintain control of the State, measures that would define a consistent authoritarian approach. The first step in that direction occurred a few days after the Maduro administration lost the parliamentary elections. Clearly violating constitutional norms and established procedures, at the end of December 2015, when the official majority in the National Assembly had only a few days left in power, new magistrates were appointed to the different chambers of the Supreme Court of Justice. Not only did these new magistrates unconditionally support the government without exception, but several of them did not even meet the formal requirements that the law establishes to be able to work in these positions.

The role this Supreme Court of Justice was to play became evident when, to prevent the opposition from taking advantage of its supermajority in the National Assembly, and in response to an accusation of electoral crime made by the ruling party with no evidence, the new magistrates decided to ignore the results of the elections in Amazonas State and not to acknowledge the elected deputies that had already been recognized by the National Electoral Council. As a consequence, the opposition lost its supermajority.

As months went by without the matter being solved, or any investigation being carried out to verify the allegations made by the Supreme Court of Justice which invalidated the elections, and as no new elections were held for that state for them to have parliamentary representation, the National Assembly decided to accept the parliamentarians who had been challenged. The Supreme Court of Justice responded by finding the National Assembly in contempt of court. As of that moment the National Assembly’s decisions would not be acknowledged by the other public powers. Thus, was created a second critical fracture in the constitutional order, which would lead to a concentration of powers that has allowed the government to become more and more authoritarian. After being found in contempt of court, the competence of the National Assembly was taken over by the Supreme Court of Justice and the Executive. One more step towards an authoritarian concentration of power was to occur when in February 2016, Maduro declared a state of economic emergency by which he granted himself extraordinary powers to rule by decree; he was thereby able to ignore the constitutional obligation of having to have the backing of the National Assembly, and to extend those extraordinary powers well beyond the time limits established by the constitution.

Under these new conditions, and regardless of the deadlines and provisions established in the Constitution and in the Organic Law on Electoral Processes in force, elections have been held only on the dates that the government has deemed convenient, with participation rules and methods defined by the government, and only with the participation of the parties and candidates that the government decides to accept. The first step taken in this direction was to arbitrarily impede the recall referendum against President Nicolás Maduro in 2016, despite the fact that, after having overcome certain systematic obstacles imposed by the National Electoral Council, the requirements established in the Constitution to have the referendum had all been met; all of this taking place, no less, after previous proclamations by the Chavez government that a recall referendum was one of the most important participatory democratic milestones of the Bolivarian process. In much the same fashion, the governor´s elections in December of that year were unconstitutionally postponed.

In May 2017, taking over the authority that the Constitution gives to Venezuelan citizens, Maduro called elections for a new so-called National Constituent Assembly. To do so, a novel and complex electoral mechanism was designed to guarantee that the ruling party would stay in power. In this electoral mechanism, territories with the smallest population were granted extraordinary representation, and specific population groups (workers, students, pensioners, etc.) were granted the right to vote; such a system arbitrarily excluded approximately five million citizens not belonging to such groups.

Between June and July of 2017 there were massive mobilizations protesting against these elections throughout the country, especially in Caracas. These demonstrations were called by the opposition parties, but they became a very widespread protest against the government, which went way beyond the opposition constituencies. Aggressive repression by the government, as well as violent actions of extreme right-wing groups lead to more than 130 deaths. Despite the high rejection of this call for elections, the government went ahead to create the Constituent Assembly. The opposition was deeply fragmented, demoralized and lost legitimacy before its followers.

Given the anti-constitutional nature of the elections and the dishonest electoral mechanism thus created, no right or left opposition group participated in them. A single-party National Constituent Assembly was thus elected, in which its 545 members were aligned with the government. This assembly proclaimed itself as supra-constitutional and plenipotentiary, that is, an absolute power, without opposition, something that would inevitably bring about a repealing of the Constitution of 1999 since the constitutionality of the measures enacted by this new Assembly could not be questioned. Most of its initial decisions were adopted by acclamation or unanimously, that is to say, without debate. Instead of addressing the tasks for which it was supposedly elected, such as the writing of a new draft constitution, this assembly began to make decisions which concerned all areas of public powers; it dismissed officials, called elections in conditions designed to prevent or hinder the participation of those who did not support the government, and approved some of the so-called “constitutional laws” which lacked a corresponding constitutional framework. The repressive Act against hatred, for peaceful coexistence and tolerance was approved, which contemplated penalties of up to 20 years in prison for those who, in the opinion of the authorities, spread “messages of hatred” over traditional or social media. It passed a new law promoting foreign investment in order to provide the conditions and the legal certainty required by multinational corporations for exploiting the Orinoco Mining Arc, as part of the government’s goal to replace oil extractivism with mining extractivism. It even very quickly approved, by request of President Maduro, a retroactive law by means of which the parties that had not participated in the mayoral elections of December 2017 would no longer have legal status. Any election of a left-wing candidate not approved by the PSUV party leaders would be prevented. This was the particular case for a candidate who had broad working-class support, was a PSUV militant backed by parties aligned with PSUV, and who met all the requirements to run; he won the elections in the Simón Planas Municipality of Lara State by a very large majority. [28] However, the National Electoral Council received orders from the National Constituent Assembly to not recognize these results and it appointed a candidate assigned by the PSUV leaders to be mayor. A similar fraud had already occurred shortly before the governor elections in the Bolívar State. According to the electoral records, Andrés Velázquez, an opposition candidate, won these elections.

Manipulation of the electoral system to guarantee government control occurred again during the presidential elections held in May 2018. These elections were originally scheduled, according to the Constitution, for December that year but were suddenly announced for May. Given their divisions and the lack of a clear political direction, not to mention the fact that most of the opposition parties had already been disqualified, as well as there being no time for negotiations or for holding primary elections to select a single candidate, most of the opposition from the broader political spectrum did not participate in these elections.

There was strong outside pressure, particularly from the government of the United States, Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the OAS, and the Lima Group, to make opposition parties abstain in these elections in order to further delegitimize the government and accelerate its overthrow. But they did not tell the people what would happen once Maduro won the elections. For some of these abstaining groups, the purpose was to put an end to the possibility of an internal, electoral, peaceful political solution to the country’s crisis. Following this, the only option left would be external intervention, either through direct action, or through a stricter economic siege, this in order to aggravate the collapse of the Venezuelan economy, these groups not being perturbed by the fact that the population, not its rulers, would be those to inevitably suffer the consequences. For imperialist political and more radical internal right-wing groups, the objective was not, and is not, to simply defeat Maduro in the elections, if that means there could still remain significant support for the government within the country. The goal is to not only oust Maduro, but also to crush the anticapitalistic dreams that have generated so much expectation both inside and outside of Venezuela. For such groups, a defeat was the goal, one including many deaths if necessary, that would once and for all prove any alternative to the capitalist order was impossible.

Henry Falcón, someone considered to be the only credible opposition candidate from the Avanza Progresista party, ran for office, but he failed to overcome problems such as the opposition´s fragmentation or the growing distrust of the population due to an already brazenly biased electoral body. With an historical abstention rate of 54%, when traditional participation levels in presidential elections exceed 70%, Maduro was re-elected with 67.7% of valid votes, according to the Electoral Council. The high level of abstention diminished the legitimacy of these results for most of the population.

Humanitarian crisis and corrosion of the solidarity and ethical fabric of society

All this translates into a deep social and ethical crisis in Venezuelan society. In the last years, there has been a clear setback in the main achievements of the first years of the Bolivarian process. Most of the population in 2018 have worse living conditions than in 1998 when Chavez won presidential elections for the first time. Hyperinflation, shortages in food and medicine, a lack of cash and growing insecurity make everyday life increasingly difficult for most people. Contrary to what might be expected, after years of mobilizations and organizational processes based on solidarity, a more individualistic and competitive outlook is ascendant in Venezuela. Bachaqueo, that is, the speculative resale of subsidized products and smuggling of extracted minerals have become a widely generalized activity, part of a parallel economy of incalculable dimensions. Smuggling on the border with Colombia operates on multiple scales, from the use of small portable containers to large tankers, all with the complicity or direct participation of PDVSA officials and members of the armed forces on both sides of the border.

In the absence of any reasonably up-to-date official information, the analysis of the current social and humanitarian state of the country must necessarily be based on research carried out by universities, research centers and NGOs. [29]

As a result of the levels of hyperinflation, in 2017 87% of the Venezuelan population, measured by income level, was found to be in poverty, a 81% increase compared to 2014. Based on the multidimensional method that considers income, housing and the provision of services, work and social care, poverty went up from 41.3% in 2015 to 51.1% in 2017. [30]

Perhaps the most direct impact of a deteriorated economy can be seen in the nutritional level of its population. According to the Documentation and Analysis Center for Workers (Centro de Documentación y Análisis para los Trabajadores, CENDA), in June 2018, the minimum wage can barely pay for 1.8% of the food needed for a family. [31]

According to an ENCOVI survey, 89.4% of the people surveyed affirm that they do not have enough money to buy food. 87.6% say that “in the last three months they have eaten less because they could not find food to buy” and 61.2% state that in the last three months they have gone to bed feeling hungry. The ENCOVI researchers conclude that 80% of Venezuelan households are currently affected by food insecurity.

The government has responded to this situation by focusing its social policy on the delivery of cash vouchers and a massive program to distribute highly subsidized food through the Local Supply and Production Committees (Comités Locales de Abastecimiento y Producción, CLAP). According to ENCOVI surveys, 85.7% of households in the country have access to this food program. There are large differences in the frequency in which CLAP packages are received; once a month by 64% of households in Caracas, while in the rest of the country more than half of the population receive it more haphazardly. [32] These packages contain mainly carbs.

Although these two programs have helped to alleviate the food situation, they have not been enough to overcome the serious food shortage that the country is experiencing. According to the Survey on Food Consumption Monitoring of the National Institute of Statistics, between the first semester of 2013 and the second semester of 2017, there has been a marked reduction in the “apparent daily consumption per capita” of food in Venezuela.

Variations in per capita daily apparent food consumption between the first half of 2013 and the second half of 2017 [33]

Food

Consumption variation

Food grains

-31.5%

Roots and tubers

+ 5.1%

Sugar

-60.5%

Legumes

-18.3%

Vegetables

-32.5%

Fruit

-52.5%

Meat and eggs

-63.0%

Fish

-41.2%

Milk and dairy products

-60.6%

Fats

-48.7%

Salt

-41.7%

Ground coffee

-55.4%,

Drinks

-87.5%

 

According to this, not only has there been a general reduction in food consumption, but also a change in people’s diet, with a drastic decrease in protein consumption. Meat, eggs, milk and dairy product consumption dropped by more than 60%. There is only an increase (very slight, 5.1%) in the consumption of roots and tubers. This has resulted in a generalized loss of weight among all parts of the population, an average loss estimated at 8 kilos per person during the year 2016. [34]

Malnutrition has a particularly severe impact on children. During the last few years, Caritas Venezuela has been tracking the nutrition of children under five in 38 of the poorest neighborhoods in seven states of the country. According to the latest report of January-March 2018 [35], 17% of children have moderate or severe malnutrition, 27% have mild malnutrition, and 34% are at risk of malnutrition. Only 22% are not malnourished. These figures show a significant increase compared to those of the last semester of the previous year. Children under 6 months old are the most affected: 35% have acute, moderate or severe malnutrition. In those same neighborhoods, 38% of pregnant women have severe malnutrition and 24% were found to have moderate malnutrition. The impact of malnutrition on the psychomotor and cognitive development of infants is undoubtedly the most severe medium and long-term consequence of the current Venezuelan crisis.

The whole of the national health system has collapsed. There is a severe shortage of medicine. Access to medicine and treatment for chronic diseases such as hypertension and diabetes is very limited. Health centers lack resources to maintain their equipment and supplies. Kidney patients die because they cannot have access to dialysis rooms. Patients with organ transplants die because they cannot have treatment to avoid organ rejection. Power and water outages are frequent. Many hospital services are no longer available or operate in minimal conditions because doctors have resigned.

Diseases that had already been controlled are reappearing. Malaria, a disease that had been reduced to a single municipality in the country, has now spread to virtually the entire national territory. Most of malaria cases reported in the Americas in 2017 were from Venezuela. Between epidemiological weeks 1 and 42, 319,765 cases of malaria were reported, an increase compared to the number reported during the entire year 2016, of 240,613 cases. [36] More than half of measles cases reported throughout the Americas in the first three months of 2018 came from Venezuela. [37]

Indigenous peoples are the most severely affected by the health system crisis, the Yanomami people on the border with Brazil have a serious epidemic of measles. [38] The Warao people, in the Orinoco Delta, are in the grip of a HIV-AIDS epidemic. [39] The Yukpa people in the Sierra de Perijá are suffering from a lethal unknown disease. If these epidemics cannot be stopped the very survival of these groups is at risk.

Deterioration in the education system has been alarming. Between 2015 and 2017 the population between 3 and 24 years receiving education decreased from 78% to 71%. The poorest sectors of the population attend school irregularly mainly due to a lack of food and water shortage. [40] Both teachers and students stop attending schools a result of transportation issues. Teachers have reported having students fainting in the classroom due to lack of food. Universities, especially public ones, are severely deteriorated. Most of their budget goes to salaries that could be considered so low as to be almost symbolic, leaving no money for equipment, research materials, publications or maintenance. All universities report professor resignations and a massive student dropout for not being able to afford an education, because students have to work to provide for their families, or because they think studying is worthless as they see that a professional wage is not even enough to buy food. Many choose to leave the country. [41] Multiple vacancies for professors in universities cannot be filled because working in academia is no longer seen as a life option.

Insecurity, as a result of both crime and police/military repression has also had severe consequences for the population. The homicide rate has increased steadily in the country since 1995. According to various sources, Caracas is today the second most violent city in the world. [42] State security forces, far from guaranteeing citizen protection, are part of the problem. [43] The most violent example has been the People’s Liberation Operations (Operaciones de Liberación del Pueblo, OLP), created in mid-2015 supposedly to offer citizen security and to control crime. They have operated as repressive bodies which have systematically applied the death penalty in police operations in lower-class neighborhoods. [44]

As a consequence of inefficiency, a lack of investment and a reduction in spending on maintenance and, also due to an all-pervading corruption, all public services in the country are in a state of extreme deterioration. Power blackouts are frequent especially in some regions of the country like the Zulia State. [45] Telephone communications are increasingly precarious; the Internet is increasingly slow. There are both lower-class and middle-class sectors in Caracas that have been without drinking water for months. Garbage is piling up. The Caracas Metro, the main means of transport in the city, is increasingly deteriorated and has frequent delays. Using it is increasingly dangerous. Deterioration is also evident in the services provided by public entities and those charged with issuing identity cards, passports and the certification of documents. Often, the only way to ensure that bureaucratic procedures are done is by paying high amounts of money to public officials. Street lighting is becoming more and more limited. The streets and highways of the country are full of potholes due to lack of maintenance. The idea that the public sector is always inefficient and corrupt tends to be a matter of common belief. Public and private transportation, both urban and interurban, has fewer and fewer operating units due to a lack of spare parts, especially in tires and batteries. During the time of Christmas in 2017, people lined up for three days to buy tickets to travel from Caracas to other cities.

A large number of Venezuelans are looking for a better future abroad. Although, as there are usually no official figures to count on, different sources estimate that between two and four million people have already emigrated. [46] The Colombian government has announced there are more than one million Venezuelans in its territory. [47] This migration began among the middle class and professional sectors, but now it is expanding towards all spheres of society. The impact of staff shortage has severely affected hospitals, universities and industry, especially PDVSA. The scale of migration is the most dramatic expression of a society that feels itself to be defeated, a society whose youth seek new horizons because they no longer see future possibilities in their own country. For family members who stay in the country, there are two sides to this migration. On the one hand, Venezuela receives an important amount of money in remittances on which more and more people depend in order to survive. But, on the other hand, this forces families to separate.

Is the end near?

In political terms, from 2017 the government has managed to consolidate its control over all State structures, from the executive to most municipalities, and its political control, for the time being, seems quite strong. The right and center-right opposition groups are deeply fractured and their supporting foundations demoralized. The left opposition, including what has been called the “critical chavismo” and “democratic chavismo,” comprises small groups with no ability to influence the country’s future in the short term.

With a skillful combination of anti-imperialist radical rhetoric that attributes all the country’s problems to the “economic war”, aimed at its most unconditional grassroots movements, and with a widespread policy of favoritism that combines gifts, subsidies and threats, the administration has achieved some voter support. All of this happening within the context of a demobilized population that has to now focus on facing the daily hardship of surviving in Venezuela today. A high proportion of the population has become absolutely dependent on the distribution of vouchers and the subsidized food packages distributed by the government for their survival. The main task of many of the grassroots movements is now to coordinate the distribution of subsidized goods.

In 2018 people have taken to the streets several times to express their frustration. Due to the defeat of the massive protests of mid-2017, and the loss of legitimacy of the largest opposition parties among their previous followers, social protests and confrontations in 2018 have fundamentally been triggered by unions or the social sectors; strikes, street blockades, protests and demonstrations have focused on low wages and working conditions, water shortages, power cuts, a lack of food, the transport crisis (both urban and inter-urban) and insecurity. According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (Observatorio Venezolano de Conflictividad Social), 5,315 protests were recorded in the first semester, some 30 per day. According to this observatory, “most protests (84%) were to demand economic, social, cultural and environmental rights.” [48]

In mid-2018, the most significant trade union or guild demonstrations were those organized by workers of the national public power company CORPOELEC, and the unions of professors and university workers and nurses. By the end of July, the union for nurses had been on strike for a month and was announcing a drastic collective resignation of its members if the government did not meet its demands. This has been a paradigmatic conflict that has become a national reference point. It has managed to synthesize demands shared by a high proportion of the population into a single struggle. Of most importance has been the demand for a living wage, as people’s income has become insignificant due to hyperinflation.

Secondly, there is the struggle to recover the health system, which, as mentioned above, has been severely deteriorated. Every day, nurses are not able to provide care to patients because they lack the necessary infrastructure, equipment and medicine. Patients have demonstrated to support the nurses’ struggle.

As the population loses interest and trust in politics and politicians, be that a loss of faith in the government or the opposition, social conflict is no longer expressed -as in previous years- in polarized positions, in favor of or against the government, but in the more immediate demands that have to do with survival. The immediate future of the country will depend, to an important extent, on how these multiple protests manage to generate a new type of movement beyond the parties that until 2017 had been the main actors on the national political scene.

Faced with the serious economic, political, humanitarian and ethical crisis of the country, the government has lacked initiatives and proposals, and it has tended to respond to protests with repression. By refusing to acknowledge the depth of the crisis and especially its causes, and by being incapable of owning up to its responsibility in all of this, as well as failing to provide moderately systematic and coherent proposals, the government has repeatedly reverted back to improvised policies that never seem to tackle the core of the problems at hand. The great solution Maduro offered in July 2018 was to issue a new currency, the Sovereign Bolivar (Bolívar Soberano), which was expected to remove five zeros from the national currency. Also, in order to curb inflation, it was announced that ownership of the Ayacucho I Block of the Orinoco Oil Belt would be transferred to the Central Bank of Venezuela to serve as backing for the new currency and would, according to Maduro, drastically stop hyperinflation from August 20, the date on which the new currency would come into force. This announcement has generated much debate and national rejection. If that oil is to serve as a guarantee for the new currency, those assets would be mortgaged unconstitutionally because, according to Article 12 of the Constitution:

“Mineral and hydrocarbon deposits, whatever their nature, existing in the national territory, under the territorial sea bed, in the exclusive economic zone and on the continental shelf, belong to the Republic, are public assets and are, consequently, inalienable and imprescriptible…”

In immediate practical terms, it is likely that this backing of the currency by oil returns will have little impact on the control of hyperinflation. Oil serves as effective backing for the currency only to the extent that the currency holders can have a foreseeable access to such oil, which is evidently not the case here. These reserves only have cash value if they can be extracted from the underground and the government lacks the massive financial resources that would be required for this. Could it be that this is a first step aimed not only at privatizing these reserves but also the oil industry as a whole?

In these conditions, it is not clear what the government’s political project is, beyond the self-evident fact that it seeks to keep controlling the State at all costs.

Its main instruments for this purpose are the support given by the Bolivarian National Armed Forces and the total power granted by a “supraconstitutional” and “plenipotentiary” National Constituent Assembly. The army has much to lose with a change of government. In addition to having considerably better salaries than those of other public employees, a high proportion of the outstanding corruption in this government has been carried out by members of the different entities that make up the army.

As for the future of the National Constituent Assembly, the government has sent contradictory messages. It had initially been announced that it would be effective for two years. However, according to Diosdado Cabello, president of said Assembly, it could continue in power for up to four more years. [49] Given its “plenipotentiary” and “supraconstitutional” nature, it could extend its term indefinitely.

There seems to be a new constitutional text being drafted secretly, in which even members of that Constituent Assembly are not included. There is therefore no reliable public information about what are its fundamental guidelines, or what a new constitution can achieve compared to the constitution of 1999.

There are, however, two main hypotheses, most likely complementary to what could be the main objectives of the new constitutional text. The first, to look for short-term options to tackle the severe lack of resources to respond to the crisis. Without a doubt, the government is aware that in the current conditions it is running out of time. Given the urgent need of new revenues, during the last three years the government has been taking measures to attract foreign investment, the most important measures being the creation, by presidential decree, of the Orinoco Mining Arc, the creation of special economic zones, and the approval by the National Constituent Assembly of a new law for the

promotion and protection of foreign investment. [50] However, in spite of the extraordinarily favorable conditions offered to foreign capital, both in terms of regulatory flexibility and tax incentives of all kinds, and the extraordinary energy and mining resources that the State is offering to multinational companies, the massive investment that the government expected has not arrived. This is fundamentally because it involves large-scale investments that would only be profitable in the medium and long term. For this, in addition to the favorable conditions offered by the Venezuelan State, the companies would require both political stability and legal certainty. None of which are guaranteed in the country today.

There is no legal certainty because all the decrees, regulations, and contracts of this new mining/energy policy are unconstitutional and violate the hydrocarbon laws, and the legislation on indigenous peoples, environment and labor. Additionally, these decisions have not been supported by the National Assembly, the only legislative body recognized by most countries. With a change of administration all these unconstitutional measures could be reversed. Therefore, in order to attract the investments it urgently needs, the government will surely seek to give constitutional legitimacy to all these neoliberal policies. It is, however, very unlikely that these constitutional changes would modify the perception of the country and generate trust.

Secondly, to remain in control of the State for an indefinite period, the current political leaders of the government-PSUV would have to substantially modify the political-legal structure of the Venezuelan State, leaving to one side or severely limiting the “impediments” of liberal representative democracy. With a political system based on universal, and direct elections that have sufficient legitimacy for most citizens to participate in them, the government cannot guarantee its control over the state apparatus. The organizational models of the state and, in particular, the electoral system exist for this reason and are based on a principle that, as in times of a really existing socialism, and in the name of further democracy, actually extinguishes any possibility of democratic expression. Second-level elections, or elections based on organizations and social sectors that can be controlled by the government, could be incorporated into the new constitutional design. A step in this direction has already been taken in the elections of the so-called National Constituent Assembly where a discriminatory regime was established that arbitrarily divided the population between first-class citizens, entitled to two votes, and second-class citizens entitled to one.

In a context of internal divisions and much discomfort at the grassroots due to the dire situation of the country, the Fourth Congress of PSUV was held at the end of July 2018, with some 670 delegates. In the weeks prior to the event, several people, including senior leaders, publicly argued that the time had come to democratize the party and give more importance to the opinion of the grassroots. In this congress the vice-president of the party proposed that Nicolás Maduro be ratified and elected as party president. He proposed “to also grant President Maduro all the authority necessary to take all the decisions he considers appropriate to appoint his national leaders, political teams, and make any organizational decisions necessary to strengthen the party and the revolution.” [51] This was approved by acclamation. “Democratically” and “voluntarily”, the delegates to the PSUV congress accepted that all decisions can be made by the top leader. This repeats a vertical power system and total absence of internal partisan democracy typical of the darkest times of Stalinism.

All this defines a new political moment characterized by a deepening humanitarian crisis, a fragmented and very weakened partisan opposition, the mixed momentum that escalating social protests acquire, and the attempts to advance the authoritarian neoliberal project that, against all odds, the government intends to impose.

Caracas, August 2018

[1]. This text draws on some previous works of the author, as well as some statements of the Citizen Platform in Defense of the Constitution (Plataforma Ciudadana en Defensa de la Constitución) of which the author is a member. To be published in: El eclipse del progresismo. La izquierda latinoamericana e debate (The Latin American left and debate), José Correa Leite, Janaina Uemura and Filomena Siqueira, editors, Colectivo 660 and Editora Elefante, Sao Paulo, 2018. [ISBN 978-85-93115-12-7]

[2]. The White House, Office of the Press Secretary. Notice. Continuation of the National Emergency with Respect to Venezuela, Washington, January 13 2017. [https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press- office/2017/01/13/notice-continuation-national-emergency-respect-venezuela]

[3]. Ben Jacobs, “Trump threatens ‘military option’ in Venezuela as crisis escalates”, The Guardian, London, August 12, 2017.

[4]. Transparencia Venezuela (Transparency Venezuela), Empresas propiedad del Estado en Venezuela (State-owned companies in Venezuela), Caracas 2017. [https://transparencia.org.ve/project/empresas-del-estado/]

[5]. Coninduistria, Radiografía actual de la industria venezolana (X-rays of the current Venezuelan industry), Caracas 2017. [www.conindustria.org]

[6]. An exception is the annual report that the Venezuelan government continues to present every year to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s Annual Report on Form 18-K to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2016. [https://www.sec.gov/Archives/edgar/data/103198/000119312517376486/d505622dex99d.htm]

[7]. Idem.

[8]. Idem.

[9]. “Venezuelan inflation predicted to hit 1 million percent this year”, CNBC, New York, July, 27 2018. [https://www.cnbc.com/2018/07/27/venezuelan-inflation-predicted-to-hit-1-million-percent-this-year.html]

[10]. Central Bank of Venezuela. Monetary liquidity. Caracas, July 2018. [http://www.bcv.org.ve/estadisticas/liquidez-monetaria]

[11]. Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela’s Annual Report on Form 18-K to the United States Securities and Exchange Commission for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2016.

[12]. Idem.

[13]. Central Bank of Venezuela, International Reserves. Caracas, July 2018. [http://www.bcv.org.ve/estadisticas/reservas-internacionales]

[14]. Prodavinci. Venezuela: la deuda externa en cifras (Venezuela: the foreign debt in figures), Caracas, 2018. [https: //www.http: //especiales.prodavinci.com/deudaexterna/]

[15]. Idem.

[16]. In May 2017 President Maduro informed that, in the previous 24 months, the government had spent a total of 60 billion dollars to pay the debt. Kevin Arteaga González, “Maduro: In 24 months we have reimbursed 60 billion dollars”, El Carabobeño, Valencia, May 19, 2017.

[17]. OPEC. Monthly Oil Market Report July 2018, Vienna, July 2018. [https://momr.opec.org/pdf-download/index.php]

[18] Mendoza Potellá, op. cit.

[19]. Petróleos de Venezuela S.A. and its subsidiaries. (PDVSA) Estados Financieros Consolidados (Consolidated Financial Statements), Caracas December 31, 2016. [http://www.pdvsa.com/images/pdf/estado_financial / PDVSAestado_financiacie_espaol_16.pdf]

[20]. Prodavinci, op. cit.

[21]. “69 people have been arrested for corruption cases in PDVSA”, Ciudad Caracas, Caracas, December 29, 2017.

[22]. Regarding the contracts of this company with the Venezuelan State in these years, price premiums and unfinished works, see: Transparencia Venezuela (Transparency Venezuela) Informe Odebrecht 2018 (Odebrecht Report 2018), Caracas. [https://transparencia.org.ve/odebrecht/informe-2018/]

[23]. Agencia Venezolana de Noticias, “Gobierno nacional prevé certificar en año y medio reservas del Arco Minero Orinoco” (National Government plans to certify the reserves of Orinoco Mining Arc in year and a half), Caracas, February 25, 2016.

[24]. According to the national constitution, “The State shall recognize the existence of indigenous peoples and communities, their social, political and economic organization, their cultures, customs, languages ​​and religions, as well as their native habitat and rights over the lands they have ancestrally and traditionally inhabited and that are necessary to develop and guarantee their ways of life. The National Executive, with the participation of the indigenous peoples, shall define and guarantee the right to collective ownership of their lands, which will be inalienable, imprescriptible, unseizable and non-transferable in accordance with the provisions of this Constitution and the law.”(Article 119). “The use of natural resources by the State in indigenous habitats will be done without harming the cultural, social and economic integrity of those peoples and, likewise, is subject to prior information and consultation to the respective indigenous communities. The benefits of this use by indigenous peoples are subject to the Constitution and the law.” (Article 120)

[25]. Decree 2248 on the Creation of the National Strategic Development Zone “Arco Minero del Orinoco”. Gaceta Ocial de la República Bolivariana de Venezuela (Official Gazette of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela), number 40,855, Caracas, February 26, 2016

[26]. Idem.

[27]. Many analysts agree that rather than an expression of support for MUD, many of whose candidates were not known by voters, this vote is the expression of an increasing rejection of the Nicolás Maduro administration.

[28]. See: “Colectivos y organizaciones populares se pronuncian por el caso en Simón Planas” (Grassroots movements and organizations raise their voices on the Simón Planas case), Aporrea, Caracas January 3, 2018. [www.aporrea.org/poderpopular/n319179.html]

[29]. The source of information of greater national coverage on the social situation of the country is to be found in the National Survey on Living Conditions of the Venezuelan Population (Encuesta Nacional de Condiciones de Vida de la Población Venezolana – ENCOVI). This is a project developed since 2014 by a multidisciplinary team of three of the most important universities in the country: Simón Bolívar University (USB), The Central University of Venezuela (UCV) and Andrés Bello Catholic University (UCAB).

[30]. ENCOVI, Encuesta sobre condiciones de vida en Venezuela (Survey on living conditions in Venezuela), Caracas, February 2018.

[31]. CENDA, Canasta alimentaria junio 2018 (Family Food needs June 2018), Caracas. July 2018. [http://cenda.org.ve/noticia.asp?id=171] [32]. ENCOVI, op. cit.

[33]. Own calculations based on: National Institute of Statistics, Indicadores SocioEconómico-Demográfico de Venezuela (Socio-Economic-Demographic Indicators of Venezuela). Period 2013-2018. Caracas, 2018. At least until July 2018, this data had not been publicly disclosed by the National Institute of Statistics

[34]. ENCOVI, op. cit.

[35]. Cáritas Venezuela. Monitoreo de la situación nutricional de menores de cinco años. (Monitoring of the nutrition of children under five). Caracas. January-March 2018. [http://caritasvenezuela.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/6to-Boletin-SAMAN-Enero-Marzo-2018.pdf]

[36]. Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, Epidemiological Update. Increase of malaria in the Americas. January 30, 2018. [https://www.paho.org/hq/index.php? option=com_docman&task=doc_view&Itemid=270&gid=43437&lang=es]

[37]. Pan American Health Organization, World Health Organization, Measles Epidemiological Update, April 6, 2018. [https://www.paho.org/hq/index.php? option=com_docman&task=doc_view&Itemid=270&gid=44330&lang=es]

[38]. OPS investiga muertes de 53 indígenas por brote de sarampión en Amazonas (PAHO investigates deaths of 53 indigenous people due to an outbreak of measles in the Amazon), Efecto Cocuyo, Caracas, July 23, 2018.

[39]. Kirk Semple, “En Venezuela, el aumento del sida amenaza a toda una población indígena” (In Venezuela, the increase of AIDS threatens an entire indigenous population), New York Times, New York, May 7, 2018.

[40]. ENCOVI, Encuesta sobre condiciones de vida en Venezuela (Survey on living conditions in Venezuela): Educación (Education). Caracas, February 2018.

[41]. According to the Director of Student Affairs of one of the main public universities of the country, in the Los Andes University, between 2015 and the end of 2017, there was a dropout of 65% of students, approximately 25 thousand students. “Student dropout in ULA university increased by 65% in 2017”, Analítica, December 29, 2017. [http://www.analitica.com/actualidad/actualidad-nacional/en-65-se-incremento-en- el-2017- desercion-estudiantil-en-la-ula /]

[42]. “Caracas, la segunda ciudad más violenta del mundo” (Caracas, the second most violent city in the world) La Patilla, Caracas, March 6, 2018. [https://www.lapatilla.com/2014/01/16/caracas-es-la-segunda-ciudad-mas-violenta-del-mundo/]

[43]. 35% of homicides in Caracas are committed by officers in uniform #MonitorDeVíctimas (VictimsMonitor), Efecto Cocuyo, Caracas, October 27, 2017. [http://efectococuyo.com/principales/35-de-los-homicidios-que-occurren- encascas-are-committed-by-uniformed-monitordevictimas /]

[44]. Keymer Avila, “La represión como respuesta” (Repression as a Response), Contrapunto, Caracas. June 20, 2017. [http://contrapunto.com/noticia/la-represion-como-respuesta-142848/]; Keymer Avila, “”Las Operaciones de Liberación del Pueblo (OLP): entre las ausencias y los excesos del sistema penal en Venezuela”, Crítica Penal y Poder (The People’s Liberation Operations between the absence and the excess of the criminal system in Venezuela”, Criminal Criticism and Power), No. 12, 2017, University of Barcelona.

[45]. The government always states that the cause of the frequent blackouts are sabotage to the facilities. On the other hand, workers in the industry affirm they are due to a lack of maintenance. “President of Fetraelec, Angel Navas, asserts that the blackout in Caracas was due to lack of maintenance, while President Maduro assures that it was ‘sabotage'” Aporrea, Caracas August 1, 2018. [www.aporrea.org/actualidad/n329052.html ]

[46]. “Consultores 21 (Consultants 21): 4 millones de venezolanos han emigrado en los últimos años (4 million Venezuelans have emigrated in recent years),” Noticiero Digital.com, Caracas January 12, 2018, [http://www.noticierodigital.com/2018/01/consultores-21-4-millones-venezolanos-emigrado-los- ultimos-anos/]

[47]. “After the end of the Administrative Registration of Venezuelan Migrants (RAMV), which began on April 6 and ended on June 8, the National Government established that, in the last 15 months, due to the crisis affecting its

neighboring country, Colombia has received more than one million Venezuelan migrants,

442,462 are illegal, 376,000 are legal and 250,000 are Colombian citizens coming back.” Nearly one million Venezuelans are in the country and 442,462 are illegal” vanguardia.com, June 14, 2018. [http://www.vanguardia.com/ colombia / 435863-cerca-de-un-millon-de-venezuela-hay-en-el-pais-y-442462-son-irregulares]

[48]. Observatorio Venezolano de Conictividad Social (Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict), Venezuela en emergencia humanitaria compleja. Conictividad social (Venezuela in a complex humanitarian emergency. Social conflict.) First semester 2018, Caracas July 12, 2018. [https://www.observatoriodeconictos.org.ve/destacado/conictividad-social-en-venezuela-primer-semestre-de- 2018]

[49]. “Cabello: ANC podría extender su vigencia hasta por cuatro años más” (The National Constituent Assembly could extend its power for up to four more years). El Universal, Caracas, July 30, 2018.

[50]. Official Gazette No. 41,310: Constitutional Law on Foreign Investment in Production, Finanzas Digital (Digital Finance), Caracas, January 2, 2018. [http://www.nanzasdigital.com/2018/01/gaceta-ocial-n-41-310-ley-constitucional-inversion- extranjera-productiva/]

[51]. “Así fue el apagón durante IV Congreso del Psuv este 30Jul” (This is what the blackout looked like during IV Congress of PSUV on July, 30), [https://www.youtube.com/watch? v = HGXG_77FOsE]

www.aporrea.org/ideologia/a267859.html

Print/Imprimir