Section: Global Kenyon

Guaidó, of alum’s party, declares presidency

Global Kenyon is the Collegian’s recurring international news feature. In order to tie these events back to campus, insights and analysis from members of the Kenyon community are included. Because these pieces will be short, we hope they will inspire readers to conduct research about the global world on their own.

Just two weeks after incumbent President of Venezuela Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for his second term, Juan Guaidó, the new president of the Venezuelan legislative body National Assembly, has declared himself acting president.

Before his announcement, 35-year-old Guaidó was a relatively unknown politician. A member of the Popular Will party formed by political prisoner and Kenyon alum Leopoldo López ’93, Guiado joined the National Assembly in 2011 and became federal deputy for the state of Vargas in 2016.

Guiado’s challenge to Maduro’s authority brought tens of thousands to the streets of Venezuela in his support, and over ten countries have recognized him as president, including the United States.

The Trump administration has not ruled out using military force to stop Maduro from taking power, according to the New York Times. Assistant Director of the Center for the Study of American Democracy Nancy R. Powers believes this would be the wrong decision.

“There’s a long history of U.S. intervention in political affairs in Latin America,” Powers said. “The vast majority of them have not been positive for the Latin American countries in which we intervened. So I don’t think there’s any role for international use by force, whether by allies or just by the United States … I think that would undermine any claim that the opposition has to being a legitimate alternative. What would be best is if the international community contributes diplomatically.”

Venezuela’s economic collapse began under Maduro’s mentor and former president, Hugo Chávez, who instituted a broad wealth redistribution program now known as “Chavismo.”

Over the recent decade,  these reforms, funded by the country’s vast oil reserves, have been mired in institutional mismanagement. This, critics allege, have only further served to enrich the nation’s ruling class and those close to Maduro, rather than the nation’s poor.

The public health system has crashed, leaving many without the ability to receive the medication they need. The inflation rate is projected to reach 10 million percent in this calendar year, according to the International Monetary Fund. Eighty percent of homes do not have sufficent access to food, and in 2014, the reported murder rate equaled the Iraqi civilian casualty rate in 2004, according to the New York Times.

Internally, opposition to the Maduro government comes from the Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD). This coalition vehemently opposes the economic strictures and redistributive policies of “Chavismo,”  and have also been demanding the release of López. 

The legitimacy of Maduro’s presidency has also come into question. After coming into power in 2013, he has jailed opposition party members, attempted to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution and, in the most recent election, been accused of rigging and coercing votes, according to a Jan. 24 New York Times article. Still, while various countries have refused to recognize his presidency, he has still been backed by China, Cuba and Russia.

However, the fate of the presidency rests on the Venezuelan military. Powers noted the important role the military can play and their internal divisions over who to support.

“Maduro rules through force and taking over many institutions — everything but the National Assembly — and he depends on being able to control military and police forces in order to enforce the rule,” Powers said. “In any of these kinds of situations, if the military stays united, then it’s hugely important to have them on your side, but … the opposition, who want a real democracy, they have been working hard to split the military ranks.”

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