Rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela.

Analysis: Venezuela has lost its democratic facade

Analysis: Venezuela has lost its democratic facade

The minute the Supreme Court said it would take over the National Assembly’s functions, the democratic façade fell off.

Rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Carac...
Rally against Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro’s government in Caracas, Venezuela.

Although the Venezuelan government has become increasingly authoritarian since the early 2000s, last month was the first time it openly attacked democracy.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

On March 29, the Venezuelan Supreme Court, controlled by the executive branch, took over the functions of the National Assembly. Although this is not the first time the Venezuelan government tried to expand its control over other institutions, unlike previous power grabs, so far, this decision has worked against President Nicolás Maduro’s administration and could potentially ignite regime change.

Eroding democracy

For the past two decades, democracy in Latin America has eroded. Democratically elected presidents like Hugo Chávez in Venezuela (replaced by Nicolás Maduro in 2013), Evo Morales in Bolivia, Rafael Correa in Ecuador and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua have used constitutional amendments to increase the powers of the executive and stay in office indefinitely. Alone, each of their amendments did not represent a strong threat against democracy. But together, they have turned these countries into competitive authoritarian regimes.

For the most part, the international community has watched the erosion of democracy in Latin America, and in particular in Venezuela, from the sidelines. Pro-democracy tools like the Inter-American Democratic Charter, approved by the Organization of American States in 2001, were designed to deal with overt threats against democracy, such as civilian or military coups.


But a slow erosion of democracy does not quite fit that bill. Unlike the military dictatorships that governed countries like Brazil (1964-1985), Chile (1973-1990), Argentina (1976-1983) and Uruguay (1973-1985), Chávez, Morales, Correa and Ortega did not take power by force. They did not close Congress or the courts, or cancel elections. On the contrary, they called for nationally elected constitutional assemblies, held referendums and further legitimized their authority using special elections.

Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.
Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro.

In Venezuela, Chávez and, more recently, Maduro, held a total of 11 elections, while they concentrated executive power, destroyed the system of checks and balances and curtailed civil rights. Imposing international sanctions against a regime that keeps such a democratic façade is hard. Without a clear threat against democracy, any move by the international community could be seen as a violation of Venezuela’s sovereignty.

Domestically, groups opposing presidents attempting to erode democracy face a difficult situation as well. Unlike civilian or military coups, the erosion of democracy happens over time, giving the opposition ample opportunities to fight back. Because they keep a democratic façade, however, presidents willing to undermine democracy are hard to “delegitimize.”


It was easy to claim that Augusto Pinochet in Chile was a dictator. He attained power by force and immediately closed democratic institutions, canceled elections and began killing, torturing and detaining his opponents. Not so much Hugo Chávez. He came to power democratically, left Congress and courts open, held elections and allowed the opposition to run for office. Even though electoral contests have not been free or fair in Venezuela since 2008, the democratic façade has made it hard to convince citizens to turn against the government.

The mask of democracy comes off

The mask of democracy in Venezuela, therefore, has put both domestic and international actors in a difficult position. Last year, the government canceled a recall referendum against the president and indefinitely postponed regional elections. Even then, the opposition was unable to galvanize enough support for regime change domestically or abroad.

The Venezuelan Supreme Court rulings changed that. In practice, the government had been circumventing the National Assembly since January 2016, arguing it was in contempt. However, up until March 29, the administration had been able to deflect criticisms. After all, Congress was there: Its members held sessions and produced legislation. The government just failed to follow, enforce or abide by it. For example, last year, the Supreme Court accepted Maduro’s economic emergency decree, which sought to widen his powers for 60 days.

The minute the Supreme Court said it would take over the National Assembly’s functions, however, the democratic façade fell off. This decision is comparable to former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori’s to close Congress and rule by decree for seven months. Similar to what happened then, two weeks ago, several countries in the region, including the U.S., made strong pronouncements against the Venezuelan court’s rulings. Regional organizations like the OAS and Mercosur drafted resolutions asking the government to fully restore the powers of the National Assembly and Perú recalled its ambassador.


Domestically, there were also important consequences. The opposition coalition, MUD, strongly condemned the decision. The president of the National Assembly publicly ripped up the rulings’ transcripts. Since then, the MUD has organized nonviolent protests every other day asking the government to remove the justices and schedule elections. More importantly, perhaps, high-level Chavistas, supporters of former president Chavez, dissented for the first time in a long time. On March 31, the Attorney General Luisa Ortega, who so far had been loyal to the regime, denounced the rulings as unconstitutional and called the government to restore the powers of the National Assembly.

It’s unclear what will come of all of this.

So far, it seems that neither opposition nor government is ready to back down. Maduro has used violence to repress the opposition’s peaceful demonstrations, but the MUD keeps calling people to the streets.

With these rulings, the government unwillingly opened a window of opportunity for the opposition. By overtly threatening what little was left of Venezuela’s democracy, the administration decreased its legitimacy domestically and abroad. In that context, peaceful protests are a valuable tool. They are likely to increase pressure against the government, and with it, perhaps deliver some concessions to the MUD. Although this outcome will not automatically deliver a return to a true democracy, it could potentially pave the way for one.

*Laura Gamboa, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Utah State University

The Conversation
They grew up in Chicago and their husbands, the Flores twins (aka ‘Los Mellizos’), worked for the Sinaloa cartel. The twins later became DEA informants in Mexico who helped bring down El Chapo Guzman. They have written a book, Cartel Wives, telling their story as a lesson to others not to fall for the narco life, and they regret what they put their families through. "Our fathers put on their suit of armor and their badge, and they are going out there on the streets of Chicago,” Mia confesses. “It’s the very same streets that our husbands were flooding with drugs.”
Nelson Denis, author of 'War Against All Puerto Ricans,' details how the commonwealth's 119-year-long association with the U.S. has produced total economic and governing dependence. With over $70 billion in crushing debt, Puerto Rico's governor turned to the courts on Wednesday to put certain debts before a federal bankruptcy court.
We traveled to Ciudad Juárez to see if hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Mexican maquiladora industry would return to the United States if Trump were to modify or abandon the NAFTA free trade agreement, as his government is considering. A border tax would have serious consequences in Mexican cities.
A wave of demonstrations in Venezuela has left several dead and hundreds more detained in the last two weeks. Univision reporter Tamoa Calzadilla explains how a democratic crisis, inflation and shortages of food and medicine have sent Venezuelans into the streets.
Gina Potes and Patricia Espitia were attacked with acid in Colombia, a country with one of the highest number of attacks of this kind. They have created a sisterhood, which they have used to help other victims and raise awareness about these brutal attacks.
As the legend goes, a UFO landed in Capilla del Monte in 1986, leaving a mark on the side of the Pajarillo mountains. Since then, this Argentinian village has lived off UFO tourism. It's currently hosting its annual Alien Festival.
The announcement to scrap the benefits came as a bucket of cold water for the Cuban migrants who just arrived in the United States. As this group waits for their papers, the uncertainty grows on whether they will ever be reunited with the relatives they left on the island.
A group of Argentines diagnosed with mental illness set up a radio station from where they broadcast their experiences
How Fidel Castro's plan to save Cuban baseball unraveled. The once mighty amateur baseball champions have lost much of their talent in recent years to U.S. Major League Baseball. Now the Cuban government is in discussions with MLB to stop the desertions. But will a Trump presidency make that more difficult?
A half-century of armed conflict has left behind 8 million victims in Colombia. It has also affected the country's unique natural resources. We explore the war’s impact on Colombia’s environment.
Forty three students in Mexico were abducted two years ago, and to this day, none have ever been found. When his son Jorge disappeared, New York City plumber Antonio Tizapa began to run marathons, not to win, but to send a message at the end of each race: he won’t stop until he finds his son or the truth about what really happened on that shameful day. On Sunday, Antonio and 20 friends will be running the New York City Marathon.
The evidence against El Chapo: undercover recordings, intercepted communications, protected witnesses’ declarations, drug seizures, and a confession. As U.S. prosecutors prepare their case against the world's most feared drug trafficker, this is what the government's case is built around.
Six months after the U.S. president visited the island, Cubans are divided over his impact. A government reform program is on hold as anxious residents pray for a tourist invasion.
Cubans seeking to flee the island are taking to rustic, homemade boats in increasing numbers since the U.S. and Cuba agreed to normalize relations 18 months ago.
La Tropical beer was popular in Cuba before the 1959 Revolution, but the factory was nationalized and the brewery later closed.
Exclusiva: Lourdes habló del primer beso de su hijo a una niña, ¿es enamoradizo MVP?
Aunque fue un momento muy tierno, Lourdes Stephen no sabe qué hacer ahora que su hijo MVP ya le dio su primer beso a una nena. Escucha el consejo que le dio la Dra. Nancy Álvarez.
¿Deben las personas sin hijos adaptarse a las necesidades de aquellos que sí tienen?
Todos en el panel somos padres de familia, pero a veces nos ha tocado convivir con aquellos que no lo son. ¿Debemos de adecuar nuestras costumbres a las de ellos por respeto? Escucha nuestras acaloradas opiniones.
Masturbación: es bueno o malo hacerlo, aquí el veredicto de una experta
En las 'Confesiones' de HOY hablamos sobre la práctica de la masturbación. Estela Durán y Silvia Olmedo aclararon algunas dudas sobre el tema.
Lo que motivó a José José a escribir sus memorias
Escribir sobre la parte más dolorosa de su vida no fue nada fácil. Luego de unos meses compilando sus memorias, el dolor y los recuerdos le hicieron abandonar el proyecto. Pero gracias a un consejo de María Antonieta Collins lo retomó.
Así fue la marcha hacia el Capitolio para demandar más ayuda a Puerto Rico
A dos meses del paso del huracán María, gran parte de la isla se encuentra aún sin agua ni electricidad, por eso cientos manifestantes tomaron las calles de la capital del país para exigirle al Congreso ayuda para los residentes de la isla. La protesta denominada ‘Marcha en Unidad por Puerto Rico’ contó con la participación del cantante y compositor Lin Manuel Miranda.
'Cómo vuelvo a enamorarte', el nuevo sencillo de Regulo Caro
El cantante Regulo Caro presentó su nuevo sencillo, 'Cómo vuelvo a enamorarte', un tema que representa la onda romántica del artista en estos últimos años. Caro aprovechó para contarnos que atraviesa por un momento familiar bastante especial ya que está a punto de recibir a su nuevo hijo.
El sur de Florida podrá disfrutar del primer 'Winter Fairland', un evento de navidad
El evento permitirá patinaje en hielo, manualidades para niños, Santa Claus, paseo en camellos, entre otras cosas. La entrada es gratuita y se paga por las diferentes actividades que quiera realizar. Winter Fairland estará desde el 24 de noviembre hasta el 7 de enero de 2018.
¿Qué prendas y accesorios no pueden faltar en el armario de una mujer?
La experta en moda Cindy Limón recomendó a tener franelas en su guardarropa, pues según ella, es una prenda que puede combinarse de manera muy rápida y oportuna. El peluche y las botas altas también se han convertido en tendencia en los últimos meses.
Toda la información y noticias sobre lo último del fútbol mundial
Pachuca recibe al Atlante para definir quién acompañará a Monterrey en la final de la Copa MX
Atlante llega con la motivación de haber eliminado a Chivas, pero con el sabor amargo de la Liga. Por su lado los Tuzos intentarán estar en la final para mantenerse en activo de cara al Mundial de Clubes.
Houston vs. Seattle: Choque de trenes entre dos de los ataques más colectivos y ricos de la MLS
Tanto el Dynamo como los Sounders cuentan con una variada serie de recursos ofensivos y no dependen de una gran estrella para anotar ante el rival de turno.
Por: Ariel Judas
Los Premios Univision Deportes están listos para galardonar lo mejor del deporte
Por cuarto año consecutivo Univision Deportes Network reconocerá el trabajo de los atletas más destacados del continente. Las votaciones para elegir a los mejores deportistas ya están abiertas.