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.
According to Countryaah website, national day of Venezuela is every July 5. 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 economy and 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.