International reporter Nina Cerasuolo surmises the decade-long, contentious tenure of Venezuela’s President Maduro.
On April 13, 2013, the Venezuelan National Electoral Council (Consejo Electoral Nacional; CEN) announced the results of the presidential elections, attended by 99.2% of voters, declaring the victory of Nicolás Maduro Moros, with 50.6% of votes. Now, April 2023 marks the presidency’s 10th anniversary.
Throughout the decade, the country’s inflation has continued to skyrocket. Maduro reaffirmed his power through re-election in 2018. However, the president’s legitimacy has been increasingly contested, both in Venezuela and by the international community.
During Maduro’s initial election a decade ago, the CEN emphasized the irreversibility of elections, recommending that for the sake of the nation, political leaders should encourage their followers to react peacefully. The CEN’s cautiousness can be attributed to the tension prevailing in Venezuela at the time. The election named a successor after 14 years of government led by socialist leader Hugo Chávez, who died in March of the same year. Chavez’s social policy, which built Venezuela’s generous welfare on the country’s oil wealth, was seen as both a visionary success and vehemently despised for leading the country to record-high levels of public debt. Before his death, Chavez interestingly framed the political future of Venezuela as a problem of “succession,” unveiling the fragile state of the country’s electoral democracy. Thus, as elections were held just a month after the leader’s passing, with candidate Maduro describing himself as “Chavez’s apostle,” ready to dismantle the “parasite extreme right,” the CEN endorsed peaceful reactions out of anticipation of social tensions.
However, Maduro’s adversary at the time, the leader of the democratic party Primero Justicia refused to recognize the election as lawful. On April 17, Henrique Capriles Radonski started a petition for votes to be recounted, followed by a threat from Maduro to push criminal charges against the opponent. In the following months, the elections underwent scrutiny by multiple judiciary authorities, but their validity had yet to be unequivocally determined.
Ever since, doubts on the democratic legitimacy of Maduro’s government have been rising. Concerns in the international community have especially increased since 2016, as Venezuela’s economic crisis escalated to a state of hyperinflation, reaching a peak of nearly 19,906% in 2019. It is not only Venezuela’s economic crisis that sparked concern. The autocratic characteristics of Maduro’s government led the United States and several European countries to recognize Juan Guaidó as acting president of Venezuela in 2019. The politician presented himself as an alternative to Maduro’s autocracy, deeming Maduro’s 2018 re-election fraudulent. Guaidó’s interim government was eventually dissolved by vote of opposition parties on January 5, 2023.
As the international perception of Venezuelan politics worsened, foreign governments’ condemnation of Maduro’s presidency was strengthened, and so was complementary humanitarian action in favor of Venezuelan emigrants, now turned refugees. On September 26, 2018, the governments of Argentina, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Paraguay and Peru brought the democratic violations in Venezuela to the attention of International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. America’s director at Human Rights Watch José Miguel Vivanco signaled the act as mirroring the “growing alarm among other countries about the human rights catastrophe that has overtaken Venezuela.” According to the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor, Maduro’s government and affiliates were responsible for the crimes against humanity of “imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty,” “torture,” “rape and/or other forms of sexual violence,” and “persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political grounds.”
The shift in how the international community perceives Venezuelan politics and the government of Maduro, however, has not confined itself to the Americas. Venezuelan asylum seekers, once only trivially represented in the European Union (EU) immigration statistics, were the single largest group of new asylum seekers in 2020. Between 2017 and 2018, Venezuelans’ asylum applications increased by 88%, with a 23% rise in acceptance rates. This was made even more significant by the fact that Venezuelan citizens are already exempt from visa requirements for entering the Schengen area. Ultimately, 3.6 million Venezuelans were displaced as of 2020; the second largest group in absolute terms after refugees of Syrian origin, as reported by the European Union Agency for Asylum. Even though most Venezuelan refugees reside in nearby Colombia, the EU has also focused on providing support. In May 2020, the EU and the Spanish government – supported by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) – organized an international donors conference to support Venezuelan migrants and the countries hosting them. The conference gathered over 2.5 billion euros to be spent for immediate humanitarian assistance, medium- and long-term development assistance and conflict prevention measures. A similar event was repeated in 2023, as the European Union and Canada organized the 2023 International Conference in Solidarity with Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants and their Host Countries and Communities in collaboration with UNHCR, IOM, and the Regional Inter-Agency Coordination Platform for Refugees and Migrants from Venezuela (R4V).
As this April marks the 10th anniversary of President Maduro’s government, the country continues to face social turmoil, economic instability, and political unrest, in a continuous re-shaping of how the country and its citizens are perceived abroad. As the 2024 presidential elections approach, the question remains open of whether Maduro is going to maintain and strengthen his power. An opposition government starting its mandate in January 2025 could reconfigure Venezuela as we have come to know it in the last decade.
Maduro reaffirmed his power through re-election in 2018. However, the president’s legitimacy has been increasingly contested, both in Venezuela and by the international community.