Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuela crisis: What is behind the turmoil?

Deputies of the Venezuelan coalition of opposition parties (MUD) and of the Venezuela's United Socialist Party (PSUV) scuffle during a session of the National Assembly in Caracas, Venezuela October 25, 201 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Tensions were running high in the National Assembly during a recent emergency session

Tension in Venezuela remains high as the economic crisis which has engulfed the country shows little sign of abating.

The government and the opposition blame each other for the dire state of the economy.

Venezuela's inflation rate, which already is the world's highest, is expected to rise to a staggering 1,660% next year, the International Monetary Fund predicts.

The opposition-led National Assembly has voted to open a "political trial" against President Nicolas Maduro, a move which the president dismissed as "illegitimate".

Each side has accused the other of coup-mongering.

Here, we look more in depth at the problems facing Venezuela and its president.

Why is Venezuela so divided?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Hugo Chavez is still revered by many, but others think his party mismanaged the economy

Venezuela is split into Chavistas, the name given to the followers of the socialist policies of the late President Hugo Chavez, and those who cannot wait to see an end to the 17 years in power of his United Socialist Party (PSUV).

After the socialist leader died in 2013, Nicolas Maduro, also of the PSUV, was elected president on a promise to continue Mr Chavez's policies.

Chavistas praise the two men for using Venezuela's oil riches to markedly reduce inequality and for lifting many Venezuelans out of poverty.

But the opposition says that since it came to power in 1999, the PSUV has eroded Venezuela's democratic institutions and mismanaged its economy.

Chavistas in turn accuse the opposition of being elitist and of exploiting poor Venezuelans to increase their own riches.

They also allege that opposition leaders are in the pay of the United States, a country with which Venezuela has had fraught relations in recent years.

Why has Mr Maduro's popularity plummeted?

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Maduro has proven less popular than his predecessor

Mr Maduro has not been able to inspire Chavistas in the same way his predecessor did. His government has furthermore been hampered by falling oil prices.

Oil accounts for about 95% of Venezuela's export revenues and was used to finance some of the government's generous social programmes which, according to official figures, have provided more than one million poor Venezuelans with homes.

The lack of oil revenue has forced the government to curtail its social programmes, leading to an erosion of support among its core backers.

A recent poll by firm Datanalisis suggested that more than 75% of Venezuelans were unhappy with the way Mr Maduro governed the country.

What does the opposition want?

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Critics of the government want a recall referendum to be held

The opposition is calling for Mr Maduro's removal from office and fresh elections.

It blames President Maduro for the economic crisis and argues that only a change in leadership can pull Venezuela from the brink.

It says that the government's mismanagement and its socialist policies have led to the spiralling inflation, food shortages, lack of medical supplies, and power cuts Venezuelans have to endure.

Read more about problems facing Venezuelans:

The opposition argues that the socialist government should have saved money when oil prices were high for times like the present, when they are low.

Could Mr Maduro be ousted?

Under Venezuela's constitution, a recall referendum can be held once a president has served half of his term in office and the requisite steps are met.

So far, the opposition has completed step one of the process.

The opposition was scheduled to start stage two of the process on 26 October.

But on 20 October, the electoral authorities announced that the signature drive had been suspended after allegations of fraud in the first stage.

The announcement was met with outrage by the opposition, which has long accused the National Electoral Council of doing the government's bidding and causing delays at every possible turn.

Election delay causes opposition anger

Could Mr Maduro face trial?

Image copyright AP
Image caption Opposition lawmakers say the president has eroded Venezuela's democratic institutions

Following the suspension of the recall referendum, the opposition-controlled National Assembly urged Venezuelans to stand up in defence of the constitution.

It approved a resolution which declared that Venezuela has suffered a coup d'etat and the constitutional order had broken down.

The resolution also advocated

  • Asking international organisations for help in defending the Venezuelan people
  • Naming new Supreme Court judges and members of the National Electoral Council
  • Calling on the Venezuelan armed forces to disobey any order which is unconstitutional or goes against human rights

The National Assembly also voted to stage a "political and criminal trial" against President Maduro.

However, analysts say a trial is unlikely to go ahead. This is because the Supreme Court had previously declared the National Assembly's actions void until three lawmakers accused of vote-buying are removed.

Any chance of dialogue?

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The Vatican has agreed to mediate in talks between the government and the opposition

After a meeting between President Maduro and Pope Francis, the Vatican announced it would mediate in conciliatory talks between the Venezuelan government and opposition leaders.

The talks have been scheduled to start on 30 October and will be held on Margarita island in the Caribbean.

But the announcement of the talks itself caused division, with opposition leader Henrique Capriles accusing the president of using the Pope's goodwill for his own ends.

Cracks also appeared within the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition, with some of its leading figures saying they had not been consulted about the talks.

PSUV vice-president Diosdado Cabello in turn accused the opposition of trying to use the talks as a smokescreen to hide their plans to drive Mr Maduro from power by force.

Previous efforts by a group of former international leaders to promote dialogue between the two sides have so far not yielded any results.

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