It’s hard to pinpoint when democracy died in Venezuela. It’s been a long, slow, painful–though predictable–slide to authoritarianism. Now, though, that slide is bringing the country to anarchy and potential civil war, risking a black hole of a failed state in South America in an oil-rich nation.
Was democracy’s death knell in 2004 when the then president, Hugo Chávez–the founder of the Bolivarian revolution–expanded the supreme court by 12 seats, from 20 to 32, in order to pack it with loyalists, so undermining the independence of the judicial system?
Was it in 2015 when the democratic opposition won a two-thirds “super” majority in the national legislature, only for the pro-government electoral commission to block three legislators from taking their seats under false claims of elections violations?
Was it in 2016, when President Nicolás Maduro appointed a loyalist Chavista general, Vladimir Padrino López, to occupy the positions of both defence minister and state tsar for food and the economy, and stipulated that all state ministers should report to the general? (Current or former military officers run 11 of Venezuela’s 32 state ministries.)
Or was it in October that year, when the electoral commission indefinitely suspended state and local elections–leaving Venezuelans without locally elected officials–and blocked a constitutional referendum on the government out of fear the governing party would be defeated?
These slow-motion acts eroded the checks and balances of democratic government and accountability and created a military-controlled government, the likes of which the region has not seen since the dark days of juntas and dictatorships in the 1960s and 70s. Worse, with each action the government closed off crucial channels and mediation, competition, choice and accountability–until, in October 2016, it shut down the most fundamental claim to legitimacy: elections.
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