Venezuela’s opposition (a National Assembly majority since January 2016 until now) has kept up peaceful protests since April. But months of political upheaval in the South American country culminated in a week of tensions intensified with the positioning of a totalitarian constitutional assembly that President Nicolás Maduro claims will bring peace. In a climate riddled with economic ruin and the scarcity of food, it may be difficult for the opposition to carry on in the face of increasingly violent repression by government forces.
After a vote on Sunday (July 30), which many suspect to be illegitimate and is criticized around the world, Maduro perhaps cleared any and all political challenges that the opposition might present in the next coming years. With Marudo calling for the rewriting of the country’s constitution and a new legislative body, the left is now in complete control. On Saturday (Aug. 5), independently-minded chief prosecutor Luisa Ortega was abruptly removed from office by soldiers. The following Sunday saw a guerrilla attack on an army base in the central city of Valencia, during which two of 20 intruders were shot dead by military officials. One was injured, seven captured and 10 managed to escape.
If political tensions continue to worsen, Venezuela could see a low-level civil war. Here’s what you should know about the growing political crisis and its many variables:
President Nicolas Maduro
Maduro served as Vice President to the late revolutionary Hugo Chavez, before he endorsed Maduro to succeed him in 2013. Early on, the two formed the Fifth Republic Movement, a socialist party in Venezuela. The “Fifth Republic” refers to the 1997 Republic of Venezuela, which was the fourth in Venezuelan history, and the Chavez-led movement aimed to re-found the Republic through a constitutional assembly.
After years of having been outwitted by Venezuela’s left, the opposition had seized control of the National Assembly in 2016. With eyes on a 2018 presidency, it had plans of writing new laws, releasing political prisoners and hauling Venezuela out of economic crisis, but those have been effectively liquidated. Family members of two prominent opposition figures Leopoldo López and Antonio Ledezma said on Twitter that the men had been taken from their homes by security forces. Both men had been under house arrest.
At the heart of Venezuela’s political crisis is the economic downfall, shortage of food and medicine, and soaring crime rates. What’s more, the Maduro regime is intent on rewriting the country’s constitution. The newly formed National Constituent Assembly “aspires illegitimately to usurp the constitutional role of the democratically elected National Assembly, rewrite the constitution, and impose an authoritarian regime on the people of Venezuela.”
The military has historically been an authority of political disputes in Venezuela. While the opposition has called on its army to uphold the constitution and prevent Maduro from further consolidating power, the late Hugo Chavez alongside Maduro spent years winning over military leaders with money and political patronage. Considering that only a handful of officers have publicly expressed disgruntlement, it seems unlikely that the military will play a role in overthrowing the current regime.
Colombian authorities are scrambling to deal with an influx of Venezuelan migrants across the 1378-mile-long border between the two countries. Officials from Bogotá have traveled to Turkey to learn more about its response to the Syrian refugee crisis. This week, Colombia’s foreign minister María Ángela Holguín reportedly announced a new shelter in the border town of Cúcuta to offer food and shelter to Venezuelan migrants.