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Anarchy in Venezuela

Controversial election shows ‘Venezuela is twisting into anarchy’

Jose Buscaglia Professor and Chair of Cultures, Societies and Global Studies See More
Last weekend, Venezuela held an election to overhaul the country’s constitution—not, that is, a vote on whether to rewrite Venezuela’s framework document, but a vote on who would comprise the constituent assembly that would carry it out.

President Nicolás Maduro hailed the election as a major victory for his administration, though its legitimacy has been widely criticized, both by neighboring Latin American countries and abroad, including the U.S. and European Union.

In the days that followed, prominent politicians opposing Maduro were detained, and President Donald Trump slapped heavy sanctions on Venezuelan leaders, including Maduro. The sanctions, however, will do little for a country that’s “twisting into anarchy,” said José Buscaglia, professor and chair of the Department of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies at Northeastern.

Indeed, Buscaglia, an expert in Central American studies, cautions that “it might turn out that the next major conflict is not in the Middle East, but right next door.”

The weekend’s vote in Venezuela would allow Maduro to further consolidate his power by changing the country’s constitution. Do you think he will? And if so, what might change?

Karl Marx once said, “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” That’s what we’re seeing here. The way Hugo Chávez came to power—which became the model for many other people—was to make a social revolution through democratic means. He got himself elected by a large margin in a fairly open election and proceeded to change the constitution so he and his party stayed in power.

So, we went through this once with Chávez and it was a tragedy. Now, we’re seeing it with Maduro, and it’s a farce. Are you going to rewrite the constitution every time you call an election? Are you going to call an election every time your power is threatened and you want to rewrite the constitution?

What do you make of the disappearance—and subsequent imprisonment—of politician Leopoldo López and former Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma after the weekend’s vote?

Before they were taken this week, both men were on house arrest, having been recently released for political protests against Maduro and his regime. This was clearly an intimidation tactic, and it’s typical of the way they’ve been proceeding up to now.

Here, they’re making a show of force—if they can go into the house of the Caracas mayor in the middle of the night and take him away in his pajamas, then they can pretty much take anyone they want out of circulation.

Calling him a “dictator,” U.S. Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin sanctioned Maduro on Monday. The follow previous U.S. sanctions on other ranking members of the Venezuelan government. But there have yet to be any sanctions levied against the country’s oil industry. Do you think there will be?

I think the U.S. sanctions are hardly going to have any effect on the intended target—Venezuela is now run by the mafia, by drug cartels, so Maduro and his associates have ways of going around these sanctions.

“The major issue here is that Venezuela is twisting into anarchy, with no end in sight to this crisis. We’re getting to a political impasse as well, with two sides both claiming to be the legitimate government of the country, and that’s a recipe for civil war.”

José Buscaglia professor and chair of the Department of Cultures, Societies, and Global Studies

As far as oil, it’s so hard to predict what this White House will do. But, if you mess around with Venezuelan oil, the prices at the pump throughout this country will be affected, and I’m not sure Venezuela is that big a deal for Washington at this point.

These most recent sanctions are a political show of force; I don’t think this administration wants Americans to feel it in their wallets, though.

Furthermore, oil is the only asset Venezuela really has. Sanctioning the industry isn’t going to affect Venezuelan leadership as long as the country still has the backing of the military, which it does. It will, however, affect the people in the streets of Venezuela. It will make things even worse for them.

The major issue here is that Venezuela is twisting into anarchy, with no end in sight to this crisis. We’re getting to a political impasse as well, with two sides both claiming to be the legitimate government of the country, and that’s a recipe for civil war.

If the sanctions won’t work as intended, should the U.S. intervene differently?

These sanctions are just too little, too late.

The U.S. has been neglecting Latin America for too long now, and we have a situation that will be extremely difficult for everyone in the region as well as for the U.S. Destabilizing Venezuela will destabilize the region. With the fatal situation we’re in right now, and the inoperability of Congress, I’m concerned that people aren’t really paying attention to what’s going on in Venezuela. It might turn out that the next major conflict is not in the Middle East, but right next door.