Mass protests against the plans of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and general strikes throughout Caracas have spawned violence, the arrest of a famous violinist, and even a bizarre situation in which the national Volleyball team forfeited matches in Australia after the team’s multiple chartered flights failed to reach their destination. But, the coming week will almost certainly prove to be even more eventful and among the most important in Venezuela’s history.
One week from today, members of the constituent assembly proposed by Nicolas Maduro are due to be selected. That assembly would then be granted powers to redraft the Constitution of Venezuela and permanently enshrine the form of government started under Hugo Chavez and expanded by Maduro in the country.
The Road to This Week
While the Venezuelan government has become increasingly authoritarian after Maduro took power in 2013 following the death of Chavez, much of the current conflict slowly erupted when the National Assembly fell to Maduro’s opposition in 2015 after Venezuelans had grown discontented with a country that faced economic contraction and rising levels of crime. It was the first time that the opposition party had won elections in the National Assembly since 1999.
With the executive branch of government and the legislative branch of government in opposition to each other, a political civil war has escalated. The lame duck session of the legislature transferred some legislative powers to the president and disqualified some winners of the recent election in order to prevent the opposition from achieving a super-majority.
Later, when President Maduro attempted to transfer powers from the General Assembly to the courts, loyal to him, the Assembly named alternate justices to the courts.
But, Maduro’s most brazen attempts to sidestep democracy have only occurred most recently. If the members of the Constitutional Assembly were chosen by popular election, it is almost certain that reforms would take power out of the presidency. Instead, Maduro has proposed selecting the members of the Assembly solely from organizations loyal to him. With the process proposed to last for two years, it would also mean that the president would not have to stand for reelection in 2018.
Should the president leave power, his personal situation would certainly be unpredictable as future governments could call him to account and likely imprison him. Most independent organizations currently place his approval rating at about 20%.
No one can know for sure how the coming week will play out, but with popular support dwindling and international pressure mounting the institution within Venezuela that could ultimately determine its path is its military, which so far has proven loyal to Maduro.
One thing that is not controversial is that Venezuela will have two paths to choose in the coming week. Path one is a structure extremely similar to Cuba’s over the last several decades; path two is one where the will of its population may once again factor into its politics.