Venezuela: please explain the current clusterfuck

I am seeing a lot of partisan blathering on both sides (“Maduro was elected democratically and we should let the Venezuelan people decide on their own how their country should be run!” "“The U.S. is propping up Guaido and fomenting a coup to steal the country’s oil!”) but not a whole lot of actual analysis.

All I can tell for sure is that hundreds of thousands of people aren’t leaving Venezuela for anywhere that will take them just for the heck of it. Mass population movements like that don’t happen for no reason.

So who should I believe, and why? Please show your work and feel free to point me toward any particularly perceptive analytical pieces you may have seen (in Spanish is fine). Frankly I’ve been wondering when the whole place would go kablooey for a few years now, and also am currently wondering whether there is any realistic way out of the current situation that doesn’t involve a coup and/or a civil war (and what circumstances might lead to actual improvements in the medium-to-long run for Venezuelans). Like, you know, reliable supplies of food and medicine and the ability to express one’s political opinion nonviolently without risking maiming, arrest, or death.

You might start with the Wikipedia article:

Millions. More than 3 million Venezuelans have fled the country:

WaPo - 3 million Venezuelans have fled their country, according to new U.N. estimate

“the economic policies of President Nicolás Maduro and his immediate predecessor, Hugo Chávez” are socialism (see Salon circa 2013 - Hugo Chavez’s economic miracle). It didn’t work, again. That’s apparently a lesson we can’t teach often enough to avoid repeating the mistake.

TL;DR = socialism sucks.

I totally understand why people are leaving Venezuela in droves; that’s not my question. What I don’t understand is all the conspiracy theories from people who are normally more sensible than that about why the U.S. has imposed sanctions, the saber-rattling about how nothing is off the table, including military intervention, etc. - some of my social justice-minded friends are talking about it like the U.S. is fomenting a coup to steal Venezuela’s oil, and just who is this Guaido guy, anyway?

My general feeling is that something needs to change in order to prevent additional mass starvation, etc., but how to filter out the perverse incentives for the U.S. getting involved at all?

Sigh. This is why we can’t have nice things.

I admittedly don’t have a great understanding of Venezuela’s government structure, but AFAICT, he (Guaidó) was a recently-elected opposition leader who held a leadership position in their legislature. I gather that it’s something like the Speaker of the House. He declared himself an “interim president” until new elections could be held, and a bunch of western countries agreed to officially recognize him as the head of the Venezuelan state. Unfortunately, very little of Venezuela’s military felt similarly-inclined, so he’s in something of a standoff with Maduro, the old / former / current (depending on who you ask) president of Venezuela.


I think that rolleyes needs some explanation, seems that HD does not know about what the socialists think about Maduro, not nice things and that he is Inmature. They also do prefer Juan Guaidó.

BTW I supported democracy in Venezuela when the coup happened against Chavez and some confused that with a complete support of the command economy and abuses of power that took place later. That was not the case, there was still reason to be supportive because recently the opposition in Venezuela had won the majority in their congress, but then the ‘inmaduro’ Maduro set a puppet congress and just by fiat decided to ignore the democratically elected one.

That was the reason why me and many others do support now a call to free elections and the removal of the joker there.

Unfortunately, the impression I have is that the American joker demanding the ouster of the worse Venezuelan one is actually helping the ruler in Venezuela because with war criminals like Elliott Abrams in Trump’s staff, it really does not bring confidence that any forceful removal (if it becomes necessary) will avoid the rise of more suppression, in this case from military strongmen that will support very right wing solutions.

That’s about Trump and his crazy foreign policy ideas.

Mauro is in the right.

He was elected by a clear majority of the electorate in ejections which the UN observers ruled to be free and fair in a system Jimmy Carter calls the greatest electoral system in the world.

The opposition refused to put up candidates in that election because they knew they would lose and thought they had more to gain from pretending the system was unfair rather than losing fairly. They’re official reason for not supporting the election is that it was called by the constituent assembly rather than the national assembly, which the opposition currently claims is unconstitutional. The supreme court believes it to be constitutional, though, as do many Venezuelan constitutional lawyers and the opposition themselves a couple of years earlier when it called gubernatorial elections they expected to do well in.

Guaido, on the other hand, couldn’t even get a ride of the votes in his own constituency at the last election for the NA, and is head of the NA only because the opposition parties decided to take it in turns, and it was his party’s turn, and the people in his party senior to him either couldn’t or wouldn’t take the job. Then he got a phone call from Pompeo and decided he was the President.

Now economically Venezuela is doing very badly, with the sanctions and, more importantly, the fact that they have long been completely reliant on oil, they price of which has precipitously declined in the last few years. Saudi Arabia got a crackdown and asset grabs by the government and big declines in foreign reserves, Venezuela got hyperinflation and massive economic dislocation.

Sanctions have little to do with it. Chavez started seizing lands and businesses well over a decade ago, precipitating the decline.

The real crisis with Venezuela began as far back as the 1960s and 70s when the government decided to bet all of its chips on its oil economy. It has gone through cycles of left/right political shifts, but going down that road meant that Venezuela was giving up opportunities to diversify its economy. That started before Chavez/Maduro, but their policies arguably made the situation worse.

There were valid questions about the legitimacy of Chavez, and there are certainly valid questions about Maduro’s power. I have been on the anti-Maduro bandwagon, but my position has evolved. Whatever concerns there are about the legitimacy of Maduro, those concerns are probably not going to be resolved with US intervention. There’s a long history of US meddling in Latin America of which people are acutely aware and sensitive about.

So Guaido becomes the de facto leader - then what? He’ll have his own legitimacy crisis. He’ll have maybe, at best, 50 percent of the country supporting him, or at least hopeful that he’ll improve conditions. But if things don’t improve dramatically, and quickly, it’s not too hard to imagine that they’ll turn on him as well. And it’s not clear what kind of military support he’d have.

I’m not sure why that is supposed to influence US policy, given that the current administration takes a firm “refugees, shmefugees” stance.

Yeah, I was more than a little pissed off when one friend accused me of supporting Trump because I think Venezuela would be better served by having someone other than Maduro in charge. But I generally agree with Senator Durbin, who happens to be supporting Guaido. Maybe a stopped clock is even right twice a day.

They’re sympathetic until they come here.

Uh, no, Maduro is wrong. No matter if he was elected with a clear majority.

I’d like the to be able to return to their own country and live in peace and prosperity.

When the opposition was elected to a majority in the legislature, he dissolved the legislature and created a new one filled with his party. The head of the old legislature said that this was unconstitutional and that Maduro was no longer president and that he was the interim president. The US and several other countries recognized Guaido as the legitimate president. The US has sent many tractor trailers full of food and medicine as aid via neighboring Columbia. Maduro had the bridges to Columbia blocked. Some of the trucks have gotten through after refusing the commands of Maduros soldiers. Some of the aid was burned by Maduro’s men.

Maduro has shown that he is not willing to step down lawfully. The only options are for him to leave willingly or for his supporters to clash with Guaidos.

Well, you should probably dig into it yourself and form your own opinion. Basically, both have debatable claims, though personally I’d go with Guaido as Maduro has been an unmitigated disaster, regardless of his legitimacy. That said, the idea that the US is behind Guaido is horseshit, and basically it’s propaganda by Maduro et al, as we are always the convenient scape goat for anything bad that happens in Venezuela, and have been since Chavez, if not before. As to Maduro being ‘elected democratically’ … well, that’s a joke. Even if he was (in the say that say Xi in China or Putin in Russia…or Saddam in Iraq when he was still about), when he set aside the previous legislature, stacked their version of the Supreme Court to make it legitimate, then basically filled it with his own folks, that sort of cuts to the heart of ‘let the Venezuelan people decide on their own how their country should be run!’. Not that it really was before that, but think about it for a moment…even in what is obviously a ridiculous system that is pretty much undemocratic, Maduro then took further steps to make it even more ridiculous and undemocratic. The people of Venezuela were disconnected even more from any chance to effect change. Which is why millions (not hundreds of thousands) are fleeing.

How legitimate is Guaido? Well, not all that much. He’s a representative from the old legislature that was set aside, and if you squint and accept it’s still legitimate and that he’s the representative of it, then you could make a (weak) case that by his actions Maduro forfeited legitimate rule and the old legislature needs to have a temporary representative while new elections are held. Myself, I’d go with this option as a possibility of stopping the total meltdown of the country…or I guess the ongoing meltdown. The complete cluster fuck? At any rate, personally I’d take a look at the countries outside of Venezuela who support Maduro and those that support Guaido as a good litmus test of ‘who should I believe, and why’, especially when you consider WHY some of those who support Maduro do so. I’d also look at the internal dynamic of who supports each person and why. To me, clearly, Guaido is the best of bad options.

That was one of the primary reasons I posted the OP to begin with. My usual sources for unbiased information are currently full of conclusory partisan crap. I was hoping someone here, if not able to present something analytical and free of hidden agendas, at least would lead me to something more substantive. I have only a basic understanding of Venezuelan politics, although as someone who spent the fall of 1989 living in the USSR, I have seen up close and personal what happens when a command economy is totally unable to respond to the needs of the population, and somewhere in a box at home I have my leftover ration coupons.

Anyone with eyes and two synapses to rub together can see that Maduro has been a disaster; I was hoping someone might have a more solid idea of how likely the various outcomes are.

Well, I tried to lay out, briefly, the various arguments in as unbiased a manner as possible, but you will note I AM biased against Maduro so it’s difficult. Still, I concede that it’s debatable which side is in the right, I suppose.

Maduro was elected (sort of…this is the crux of the dispute)…then set aside the assembly in a way not authorized by their constitution when there was protest that the election was rigged (of course it was, but this one was more egregious than others I suppose). Then he changed their supreme court to make it kosher. Then he built another assembly of his supporters. Guaido is from the old assembly, and is claiming to represent an interim government that is there solely to orchestrate new elections since the last election is, he claims, invalid. There is a quasi-sort of rationale wrt their (old, now) constitution that gives him sort of kind of powers to do this. But not according to the new assembly or new supreme court. So, you kind of need to decide for yourself where your opinion falls wrt a complex mess.

It’s actually moot anyway…Maduro still has the support of the military, though that also seems to be eroding. In the end that will be the key, regardless of the merits of their case.

There are some YouTube videos I could link too, but folks seem to really have issues with that so I won’t unless you want the short version. I did find this NY Times article on it that I can quote some thing from: