Professor Jennifer McCoy and Professor Daniel Hellinger talked about Venezuela and future prospects for the troubled country. Professor McCoy provided context for the situation in Venezuela today. She spoke about the origins of Chavismo and how Chavez believed in change through confrontation, which in turn caused strong polarization between within Venezuela. Upon his death, Chavez left behind a very divided country, a country with severe social and economic challenges, a mobilized citizen base, and a vacuum of leadership.
The social and economic issue in Venezuela mounted with the beginning of the Maduro presidency. International reserves declined at a rapid pace and violence hit new peaks, leaving Venezuela with one of the highest homicide rates in the world. There were several failed attempts at mediation between the Chavistas and the opposition but none came to fruition despite international help from UNASUR and the Vatican. Venezuela has increasingly seen a slip into authoritarianism as the Maduro regime has continuously usurped powers from the various branches to the executive, which has been a red-flag in the international community.
Professor McCoy spoke of possible solutions to the crisis. These solutions would involve negotiating for a transition government or an institutional pact because changing the partisan institutions would be very difficult. Possible incentives for the current government to comply with such solutions would be lowering exit costs and protecting the government from prosecution upon exiting. Additionally, bilateral pressure from neighbors and the OAS might help.
Professor Daniel Helllinger focused on the oil industry in Venezuela and talked about Chavez’s role in the petroleum industry. He labelled Chavez a petro populist for re-asserting state sovereignty over state resources and taking back control of the oil industry to bring in money to fund social welfare programs. He credits Chavez with devising an impressive oil policy that greatly benefited Venezuela in terms of welcoming private capital in investments while managing to maintain majority state ownership in joint ventures. Chavez raised royalties, which proved beneficial for Venezuela to collect more revenue from international partners.
The session concluded with many questions regarding Venezuela’s future, particularly the role of the USA and international institutions in Venezuela’s future. This event happened to take place right after Mr. Almagro, the head of the OAS, brought up the OAS democratic charter to sanction Venezuela. Students were very curious about the role of the U.S. in condemning Venezuela. However, both panelists agreed that the U.S. was unlikely to take any definitive actions nor sanction Venezuela because its involvement was likely to further worsen tensions in Venezuela.
It will be interesting to see what continues to unfold in Venezuela as the situation worsens and the citizens and international community become more pressured to act and mitigate the atrocities that occur daily inside the oil nation.
Written by Carela Mendez, Government Major (C'19)