Venezuela. On March 5, Venezuela’s controversial and internationally renowned President Hugo Chávez passed away at the age of 58, after two years of fighting cancer. Hundreds of thousands of people followed his coffin through the streets of the capital Caracas the following day. He had been President continuously since 1999 and left an indelible mark not only on Venezuela but throughout Latin America. His influence on several leftist movements in the region can hardly be overestimated.
In Venezuela, Chávez was most praised for his efforts in the social field – poverty and income inequality have decreased and access to medical care for the poor has increased dramatically. Others cited the country’s foreign debt, inflation and mismanaged oil sector as negative results of the years with Chávez, as well as the crime and major deficiencies in the democratic system, such as the extreme concentration of power in the hands of the president and state control of the media.
The fact that Venezuela without Hugo Chávez will be something else was evidenced by the result in the April 14 presidential election, when Chávez himself hand-picked the successor Nicolás Maduro who was expected to win for Venezuela’s United Socialist Party (PSUV), but by a very small margin, with only 1.5 % overweight. His opponent, Henrique Capriles, who in the presidential elections in October 2012 only managed to win the majority in two states, now won in eight states and among them the six most populous in the country.
Despite Maduro’s weak results, the opposition expressed dissatisfaction with the electoral procedure and demanded recalculation of the votes. According to most analysts, the result indicated that the strength of the political movement that Chávez started (“chavismo”) was strongly connected to him as a person and that Maduro lacks all the charisma that his representative had. At the same time, Maduro still had a congressional majority behind him and controlled all the most important functions of state power. Maduro was installed on April 19.
In response to criticism of the government for the rise in crime, President Maduro announced a new campaign in early May in which the military played a significant role. According to Countryaah, the murder statistics are one of the worst in the region despite a number of similar measures in recent years.
In the local elections in early December, a hint of chavismon’s declining opinion following Chávez’s death was given. Although PSUV received almost half the votes cast, the opposition won in two of the most important cities, Maracaibo, which is the center of Venezuela’s oil industry, and the capital Caracas. In total, the opposition won in 53 of the 149 municipalities.
The governing party wins boycotted parliamentary elections
The ruling Socialist Party PSUV and its allies in the electoral alliance Greater Patriotic Poland win big, as expected, when elections to the National Assembly are held – an election that the majority of the opposition boycotts. The PSUV alliance gets 69 percent of the vote and 253 of the 277 seats. A group of opposition parties called the Democratic Alliance gets 18 percent and 18 seats, while 3 seats go to small parties and 3 to representatives of indigenous peoples. Turnout is 30.5 percent, according to official data.
Oil executives jailed for corruption
Six managers in the oil refining company Citgo are sentenced to between 8 and 13 years in prison for corruption. According to Human Rights Watch, they have been accused of signing an agreement that was “unfavorable to Venezuela’s state oil company”. The six men, who are all US citizens or have a permanent residence permit in the United States, were arrested three years ago when they were called to Caracas for a meeting (see November 26, 2017). Their lawyer believes that they are to be regarded as political prisoners. Citgo is a US-based company owned by the state oil company PDVSA.