Why is Maduro still in power in Venezuela?


CARACAS: With his popularity battered by food shortages, economic chaos and rampant crime, it is hard to understand how Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has clung to power.

What is keeping the socialist leader in place as his country teeters on the brink of collapse? And when, if ever, will Venezuela reach the tipping point?

Here is a look at the levers of power in Venezuela, and how Maduro retains his grip on them.

Maduro’s opponents urged the military to take a stand for democracy this week after the latest twist in the crisis, when the Supreme Court seized legislative power from congress.

But Maduro is a master at keeping the army on his side.The power of the Venezuelan Armed Forces — already vast under late president Hugo Chavez, a former officer — has only grown under his protege Maduro.

Eleven of Maduro’s 32 ministers are current or retired officers. The military controls food production and distribution, plus a string of state-run companies in oil, television, banking and other powerful industries.

Maduro “has bought their loyalty,” said political analyst Benigno Alarcon.

The government allegedly cares little what the generals do with their power.

“There are reports that various (officers) have close ties to drug trafficking and other criminal enterprises,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue research institute.

Since Chavez came to power in 1999 and declared a socialist “revolution,” his movement has taken over nearly all the country’s institutions.

“Chavistas” dominate the courts, the media and state oil company PDVSA.

When Maduro’s party lost legislative elections in 2015 — forcing it to share power for the first time — the outgoing legislature named 13 new judges to the 32-member Supreme Court.

The “Chavistas” have virtually taken over the broadcast media, buying up independent TV networks.

“Maduro does his utmost to silence independent media outlets,” watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said last year.

Maduro also wields control over the world’s largest oil reserves through PDVSA — where he is reportedly about to name an even stauncher loyalist as chief executive, Oil Minister Nelson Martinez.

Divided, jailed opposition
Maduro also benefits from opposition infighting.

The main opposition, the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), is an unwieldy coalition of some 30 parties. They tend to the center-right, but span the entire political spectrum.

They have struggled to settle on a strategy.

And when they rise up in protest, the authorities often throw them in jail.

One notable example is hardline Maduro opponent Leopoldo Lopez, who is serving a 14-year sentence on charges of inciting unrest at protests in 2014.

Hunger and fear
The opposition has meanwhile struggled to get Venezuelans to take to the streets.

Seven in 10 Venezuelans disapprove of Maduro, according to pollster Venebarometro, but often they are too busy standing in line to buy scarce food.

There is also residual fear from violent protests of the past. In 2014, 43 people died in clashes.

Heavily armed police, troops and pro-Chavez militants are regularly present at protests.

For some Venezuelans, especially the poor, there is lingering loyalty to “Chavismo” for spreading the wealth in the oil boom years.

Others no longer have the energy to care.

“I don’t support either side,” Yandry Diaz, 18, who works in a shoe shop, told AFP.

“What they want is to have us in the street, fighting and killing each other so that they can hold power.”

This is Latin America
Venezuela’s crisis has the rest of Latin America increasingly worried. Yet the region has done relatively little to pressure Maduro so far.

That is partly because of Venezuela’s largesse with its oil wealth.

For years Chavez and Maduro sold cut-rade crude to regional allies in Petrocaribe, a 17-nation club — though hard times have taken their toll on the flow.

Maduro is also the current poster boy for a fiery brand of anti-US rhetoric that unites the Latin American left, which loves to hate what it calls the domineering neighbor to the north.

Regional pressure is increasing, however, as right-wing governments have come to power in former allies Argentina, Brazil and Peru.

Weak international response
The international community has largely stood by.

The most prominent intervention was by Pope Francis, who convinced the government and opposition to sit down to talks in November.

They sputtered and then collapsed — further dividing the opposition and buying Maduro more time.



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