Venezuela. A politically very troubled year began in
April with a coup attempt against left-wing populist
President Hugo Chávez. The already fierce political mood
increased even more from October with almost daily mass
demonstrations, roadblocks and crowds.
Countryaah website, several unsuccessful general strikes were announced
during the year, but the "citizen strike" initiated by the
opposition on December 2 succeeded in almost entirely
paralyzing the country's important oil production. This was
devastating for both the state finances and Venezuela's
economy as a whole and caused the world market price of
crude oil to rise. Venezuela, which is the world's
fifth-largest oil producer and supplies the United States
with 15% of its oil, normally produces 2.7 million barrels
of oil per day, but the strike capped production to only
200,000 a day. The oil sector accounts for 75% of export
earnings, 50% of government revenue and 25% of GDP, and
employs a quarter of the labor force.
The opposition's main demands were the disarmament of the
so-called "Circulos Bolivarianos" with militant and armed
Chávez supporters and a referendum in February 2003 on
President Chávez's right to hold the office, which Chávez
rejected as unconstitutional. In the background, however,
there are also a number of rather far-reaching legislative
proposals from the government, Chávez's opposition to the
privatization of the oil sector and his purging of old trade
unions in the oil sector.
Army chief Julio García Montoya called the strike
December 16 a "sabotage" that jeopardized the survival of
the state, and the military intervened several times by
seizing oil tankers. The crisis led to gasoline shortages.
Brazil offered to export gasoline to Venezuela, one of Latin
America's most impermeable countries.
The American cooperative organization OAS tried in vain
to mediate in the increasingly polarized conflict. The
general strike was organized by the Fedecamaras employers'
organization, PDVSA's state oil company management and the
central trade union CTV, representatives of the old
political establishment that Chávez had undertaken to
dismantle since his two coup attempts in 1992.
Chávez has had his main support among Venezuela's poor,
but an opinion poll published November 15 showed that 53% of
respondents supported the opposition's demand for his
resignation, and as many as 60-70% of the lowest income
groups felt he had failed with his social reform program.
The Maduro government has increasingly been criticized by
international organizations and governments for dealing with
the economic crisis, for human rights violations and
oppression of the opposition.
In contrast to the left-wing in the 2000s, when Venezuela
held a leading position in the region, the country is now
increasingly politically isolated. This is also linked to a
political shift in the Latin American continent as a whole,
where conservative governments have consolidated as a
leading power factor.
In December 2016, Venezuela was suspended from the
Mercosur regional trade bloc. The reason was that the
country had not fulfilled a number of trade conditions
governed by the agreement. The Organization of American
States (OAS), under Secretary General Luis Almagro's
leadership, has taken a very critical stance on the Maduro
government and marked support for the opposition. In March
2017, Venezuela withdrew from the OAS after Almagro failed
to obtain a majority for a decision to suspend the country
from the organization.
The United States under President Donald Trump has
imposed numerous sanctions on Venezuela, both against
individuals linked to the government and against sectors of
the country's economy. Both Trump and then- CIA Director
Mike Pompeo expressed in 2017 that they are working for a
regime change in Venezuela. The EU has also introduced
sanctions against individuals, as well as a ban on arms
sales to the country. In December 2017, the Venezuelan
opposition awarded Sakharov human rights prize of Eur
opaparlamentet, to much protest from the left bloc in
Parliament. This reflects Venezuela's controversial position
in the international political landscape.
The escalation of the crisis
On January 23, 2019, President of the National Assembly,
Juan Guaidó of the opposition party People's Party (Voluntad
Popular), declared himself the rightful president of the
country. This with reference to the fact that the
presidential elections in which Maduro was re-elected in
2018 were considered by many as illegitimate. Neither the
United States, the European Parliament, or the Organization
of American States (OAS) approved the election results.
However, the government and the international observers who
were present maintained that the election was legitimate.
Following Guaidó's actions, the Trump administration heavily
sidelined the opposition by issuing additional unilateral
sanctions directly targeting the country's economyand oil
sector, and by keeping open the possibility of military
intervention if Maduro did not retire. A number of countries
recognized Guaidó as the country's president, while Norway
remained neutral. In May 2019, it became known that Norway
is leading attempts at negotiations between the Venezuelan
government and the opposition.