Venezuela is in the midst of an economic, social and political crisis, said Harold Trinkunas, the deputy director of FSI’s Center for International Security and Cooperation and an expert on Latin American politics.
“Venezuela is a major oil-producing company, and it experienced a boom between 2000 and 2012,” Trinkunas told FSI Director Michael McFaul on the World Class podcast. “Up until then, Venezuela seemed to be doing pretty well.”
But things have changed since former President Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013. Once one of Latin America’s wealthiest nations, Venezuela’s economy has collapsed by more than 50 percent in recent years, Trinkunas said. Meanwhile, a large majority of its population is living in poverty, millions have fled the country, and the government — led by President Nicolás Maduro — has become increasingly authoritarian and unpopular among citizens.
During his first five years in office, Maduro’s government politicized the military and the oil industry, Trinkunas said, noting that oil production in Venezuela has declined from 3 million barrels per day 20 years ago to fewer than 1 million barrels per day in recent years. After Maduro was re-elected in 2018 amongst reports of coercion, fraud and electoral rigging, about 50 countries — including the United States and many members of the European Union — denounced his election.
“The fact that there are 50 countries [that oppose Maduro] is really quite unusual,” Trinkunas said. “And this is the United States and many of its allies — many western democracies are in this camp.”
Less than a year after the election, opposition leader Juan Guaidó invoked the country’s constitution to declare himself interim president. About three months later, on April 30, 2019, Guaidó called for an uprising against Maduro, but the response wasn’t what Guaidó had hoped for, Trinkunas said.
“Apparently there had been a process of negotiation in the weeks leading up to April 30, in which the armed forces, the Supreme Court, and other significant regime figures agreed to a transition plan which would ease Maduro out and call for new elections,” Trinkunas said. “But it looks like Juan Guaidó pulled the trigger too quickly — he claims the plot was discovered.”
Trinkunas sees three possible scenarios for Venezuela going forward: one in which Maduro is able to retain his power and the state of country remains relatively unchanged; another in which the government collapses and the country is able to transition into a democracy; or the Venezuelan government may collapse and things could take a turn for the worse, he said.
“Venezuela has experienced prolonged electricity blackouts in the last couple of months, and food distribution is very uncertain — things are breaking down,” he said. “There’s a real [possibility] that some of the organized crime organizations could break down the social order. It might look like a much more complicated situation.”
Related: Read a Q&A with Harold Trinkunas about Juan Guaidó’s claim to the Venezuelan presidency.