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Venezuelan Government Legitimacy Sinks with Its Black Gold

By: Helena Ball - Mar 9, 2015, 3:51 pm

EspañolIntellectuals, pundits, and opportunists alike were fascinated with former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez and his charismatic message to put down corrupt elites and eradicate poverty. What they failed to notice was that he was cloaking the country behind windfall oil revenues — to the tune of US$1 trillion since 1999 — to hide the deep wounds his policies inflicted that are now too bloody to conceal.

Nicolás Maduro, a former bus driver and relatively unknown Venezuelan foreign minister, inherited the battered country. But unlike in Chávez’s time, plummeting oil prices have eliminated the government’s ability to patch up its mistakes with handouts and emergency decrees. With the coffers depleted, repression has become the only option to maintain power as the economy collapses after years in the chokehold of stringent controls and regulations.

Venezuela is on the brink of default while inflation spirals out of control, the currency continues a free fall, and the death toll continues to rise. As any semblance of legitimacy disappears, ambitious competitors in government have the chance to vie for the presidency.

Yet despite Maduro’s obvious failings and draconian hand, he will be hard to topple. His appointment to the presidency was a calculated decision by Chávez and his long-time allies in Cuba in order to keep their joint effort to create a socialist utopia in motion.

Chávez’s own rise to power was catalyzed by his connections to Fidel Castro, who helped him craft his long-term plan to perpetuate his position in power and impose his ideologically oriented system of government. His terminal illness was an unexpected bump in the road for the Cuba-Venezuela plan to permeate the continent and eventually the world with the international-socialist approach to government, strategically destroying Venezuela’s 50-year-old democratic institutions.

Cue Maduro, a loyal Chavista trained to sound like his mentor in public appearances and malleable enough to keep under Cuba’s thumb. Other more high-profile members of the Chavista government were cast aside as their independent thinking and ambitions of power were a threat to the Cuban alliance.

Today, Venezuela is a Cuban satellite, its leader a puppet of the Castro regime. So whoever attempts to replace Maduro will have to contend with the leadership in Havana, further complicating the political crisis resolution.

The Caribbean island-nation and former Cold War Soviet ally has directed Venezuela’s actions for years. Chávez and Fidel’s friendship has been well documented since 1998, and it is no coincidence that, just like Cuba, Venezuela holds frequent elections to maintain the semblance legitimacy for its policy actions. And of course, the regimes have never been surprised by the results. Proof of voter intimidation and assisted voting, in addition to electoral-roll tampering during the Chávez presidency, was recently reaffirmed in a study conducted by researchers at the Carlos III University in Madrid.

After Chávez’s death, elections were held once again to maintain the pretense of democracy. Maduro was allowed to run and win, even after claims that his candidacy was unconstitutional due to his post as vice president. International media publications and diplomatic institutions quickly granted Maduro the title of president of Venezuela, despite the most conspicuous fraud in the country’s history with swollen voter rolls, ballot irregularities, and blatant voter intimidation. An illegitimate government managed to attain domestic legitimacy by force, and the rest of the world acquiesced.

Theorists describe political crisis as a decline in legitimacy in state institutions and political elites. As such, Venezuela has been in a crisis for more than a decade and has now reached a political apocalypse. Political scientist Robert Dahl denotes the necessary criteria for a country to be considered a democracy: free and fair elections, the right to vote, the right to run for office, freedom of expression, alternative sources of information, and the freedom to join organizations. Venezuela fails to meet not one but all the criteria, and has for many years deprived its citizens of those rights.

Elections keep citizens’ hopes alive that a peaceful resolution to the political crisis can still take place, when it is evident that democratic institutions in the country are now only a façade. Thus by no academic definition of the words legitimate and democracy can this government be considered to be either, and therefore should be given none of the advantages of international legitimacy in the diplomatic stage.

The only way that change can come from within is if the rest of the world condemns the government’s every action and removes its ability to cloak itself in false legitimacy.

The Cuban-Venezuelan method of infiltrating democratic institutions by corroding them from within to create a neo-socialist totalitarian state has reached far beyond Caribbean shores, most notably to Argentina’s presidency and Spain’s leftist Podemos Party. The country also has economic relationships with the likes of Syria, Iran, and Russia.

Academics like Samuel Huntington consider democracy to be the only source of legitimate government — so what should be the world’s response to a despotic, totalitarian regime that arbitrarily murders and imprisons its citizens on a daily basis? Denying visas to certain corrupt government officials is a start, but it is nowhere near an action strong enough to send the message that Venezuela is a country hijacked by an illegitimate group of thugs with international backing from like-minded despots.

Edited by Fergus Hodgson.

Helena Ball Helena Ball

Helena is managing editor of the PanAm Post. She previously worked at Inc. Magazine, the Financial Times' fDi Magazine, and London-based business newspaper City A.M. Helena holds a master’s degree in business and economic reporting from New York University and a bachelor's degree in economic history from the London School of Economics. Follow her @helemball