Why the ground shifts under Venezuela's regime

The country’s political crisis is coming to a head as the poor embrace democratic rights and reject the Maduro regime.

Demonstrators sing the national anthem next to violinist Wuilly Arteaga while blocking a street during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela July 19.

A defining moment in a democratic revolution often comes when a nation’s poor, who mostly focus on daily material needs, join others in demanding basic rights and uncorrupted governance. A fruit vendor in Tunisia, for example, sparked a revolution in 2011 after taking a public stand for equality of law. In recent months, as Venezuela nears a breaking point in a political crisis, its poor have begun to join the peaceful efforts of others in seeking an end to the Maduro regime’s grab for indefinite power. 

This widening support among Venezuelans to restore democracy, reflected in months of protests and a large voter turnout for an unofficial July 16 referendum by the opposition, has forced other countries to seek a resolution as the crisis slides toward chaos. 

The Trump administration, for example, promises stiff sanctions if President Nicolás Maduro goes ahead with a pre-rigged vote on July 30 to rewrite the Constitution and move Venezuela closer toward Cuba-style authoritarian rule. The United States, says President Trump, “will not stand by as Venezuela crumbles.” The Obama administration first imposed sanctions in 2015.

So far, however, outside powers have yet to influence the regime other than to allow jailed opposition leader Leopoldo López to live under house arrest. The main action remains the steady loss of legitimacy of Mr. Maduro among the poor. His economic mismanagement has led to mass shortages despite the country’s vast oil reserves. Polls show 69 percent of citizens do not want him to stay in power. Nearly the same percentage oppose his attempt to alter the Constitution.

The opposition controls the National Assembly but its powers have been side-lined by Maduro by various maneuvers. Now, with widening dissent among the poor, the opposition has set up a parallel government and plans to name new judges for the Supreme Court. It has also called for a 24-hour strike by businesses on July 19. In addition, the government is heading toward a showdown with foreign creditors with a $3.5 billion payment on the national debt due in October. 

The crisis in Venezuela is the largest in Latin America in decades,but it is one that is now ripe in showing how much the region has embraced democratic principles. As is often the case, democratic progress can be led by poor or rich alike.

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