The 17th summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) this September resulted in another humiliation for crisis-stricken Venezuela’s President Nicolás Maduro when only about 10 heads of state showed up.1 The NAM, an anti-imperialist bloc of 120 nations whose last summit in Iran in 2012 drew 35 heads of state, first convened in 1961 with the goal of combating Western domination.2 Maduro’s opposition called the embarrassingly low attendance a “devastating failure” for Maduro.3 This is just one of a slew of recent difficulties for the increasingly unpopular leftist president, whose country has been in a state of utter economic disarray for years.
The condition of Venezuela is one of ever-growing complexity as well as urgency. Following a decade and a half of soaring prosperity built directly on Venezuela’s immense oil industry, the fall in global oil prices ushered in a three-year period of catastrophe.4 Today, Venezuela’s inflation rate is the highest in the world, more than twice the second highest, and its capital, Caracas, is now the world’s most violent city.5 The country faces extreme food shortages that have prompted huge protests, riots, and mass lootings.6 The country’s congressional Health Commission estimates that the country lacks 95 percent of the medical resources it needs for its increasingly inoperative hospitals to function.7
In the midst of the widespread strife, angry Venezuelans need someone to blame, and Maduro is the most obvious candidate. The hand-picked successor of previous president Hugo Chavez, Maduro has relentlessly continued to defend Chavista-style socialism, which many people believe is what drove the country into such deep crisis.4 Though the most recent congressional elections in December filled Congress with Maduro’s opposition, the Chavista-packed supreme court has made several (constitutionally questionable) rulings giving Maduro seemingly unlimited emergency powers, rendering his opposition administratively immobilized.6
Maduro’s authoritarianism isn’t the only obstacle his opposition faces. Though civilians against Maduro have turned out by the hundreds of thousands in protests and riots calling for Maduro’s removal, there remain millions of Venezuelans who benefited from Chavez’s extensive social programs and who continue to support Chavismo and Maduro.6,8 In addition, the coalition against Maduro is in fact made up of several smaller parties with little in common besides their desire to oust him. These factions cannot come up with an alternative to Maduro’s rule because they can’t agree on a plan for the future, making it more difficult to convince Chavistas in the electorate of the need for a change in government.6
The opposition is currently doing its best to set in motion a recall referendum, a long and involved process which last week was stifled by a ruling from Venezuela’s electoral council that no referendum will take place this year. For the referendum process to be possible in 2017, the opposition must collect 4 million signatures (of which they already have 2 million) by the end of October.9 The fact that a referendum cannot take place until 2017 means that the opposition will not have the opportunity to try and get one of their own elected president—now, even if Maduro is brought down, his vice president will be the one to finish out the remainder of the term, and the office will remain in the hands of the Chavistas.10
But this delay in the referendum process is only a small victory for Maduro, who continues to suffer humiliation after humiliation. After years of impassioned anti-imperialist rhetoric from Maduro, as well as speeches framing Venezuela’s oil as the lifeblood of its people’s sovereignty, Venezuela recently began to import oil from the United States.11 Three weeks ago, Maduro was literally chased through the streets of Margarita by angry, pot-banging protesters, and recorded in an almost comical video that made international headlines.12 And now, the NAM summit which Maduro hoped would illustrate international support for Venezuela and revive his reputation has proved a flop. “Millions of Venezuelans’ dollars wasted for the ego of the government,” said opposition leader Henrique Capriles, “and the great majority of the countries didn’t come to the show!”13
Though the majority of Venezuelans desperately want Maduro out, the reality is that with or without him, the country will continue to be divided between Chavistas and the opposition. Only massive reforms can reverse Venezuela’s crisis now, and the longer the government waits, the harsher the rebound period will be.6
1 “Venezuela: Non-Aligned summit fizzles for Maduro.” AlJazeera. 18 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
2 Hemish, Mohamed. “5 Things You Need to Know About the Non-Aligned Movement.” TeleSUR. 14 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
3 Buitrago, Deisy, and Girish Gupta. “Critics Say NAM Summit a Failure, but Maduro Revels in Support From Zimbabwe, Iran.” The Wire. 19 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
4 “Venezuela: On the Edge.” AlJazeera. 21 Jul. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
5 “The 20 countries with the highest inflation rate in 2016 (compared to the previous year).” Statista. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
6 Raderstorf, Ben, and Michael Shifter. “How Much Worse Can Venezuela Get?” Slate. 26 Jun. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
7 “Venezuela in Crisis: Rampant Shortages Leave Country in Shambles.” acbNEWS. 6 Aug. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
8 Brodzinsky, Sibylla. “‘We are a like a bomb’: food riots show Venezuela crisis has gone beyond politics.” The Guardian. 20 May 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
9 Mallett-Outtrim, Ryan. “No Recall Referendum in 2016, Confirms Venezuela’s Electoral Council.” Venezuelanalysis.com. 22 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
10 Dreier, Hannah. “Venezuela Officials Deny Opposition a Recall Vote in 2016.” acbNEWS. 21 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
11 Casy, Nicholas, and Clifford Krauss. “How Bad Off Is Oil-Rich Venezuela? It’s Buying U.S. Oil.” The New York Times. 20 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
12 “Protesters appear to chase Venezuela president Nicolas Maduro through streets on Margarita Island.” The Telegraph. 3 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
13 “Capriles: De 120 países del Mnoal solo vinieron 15 presidentes.” El Universal. 17 Sept. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.