Since April this year, nearly 100 people have died in clashes with Venezuelan security forces during mass protests, with thousands more injured and hundreds arrested. Protesters have denounced plans for a “Constituent Assembly” to replace the National Assembly and are demanding early presidential elections. In recent months, the political and economic situation in Venezuela has deteriorated to the point where Major League Baseball players have joined the call to end to the oppression of the Venezuelan people. As the Latin American nation becomes more unstable economically and more dangerous to visitors and citizens, it is important to understand the issues and why even baseball is affected. The Washington Post summed up the conditions in Venezuela as follows:
“Venezuela is a powder keg. Once a rich country held together by strong leadership and heavy social spending, it is now in economic disaster and could slide into widespread social disorder, triggering instability throughout Latin America. Drastic shortages of food, medicine, electricity and other necessities are causing small riots. Organized crime and extrajudicial police killings have given Venezuela a frighteningly high rate of murder and violence.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. State Department noted, “The United States deplores the Venezuelan government’s increasing authoritarianism, and the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly designed to undermine Venezuela’s democratic institutions, including the National Assembly.” The Constituent Assembly is currently scheduled for a vote on July 30. Yesterday, the U.S. government announced it had begun preparing sanctions against Venezuela which it would implement if the Latin American country continues with its plans to replace the National Assembly with a new “Constituent Assembly,” which critics state simply would do the bidding of Venezuela’s President Nicholas Maduro. After Sunday’s unofficial referendum (organized by oppositions leaders) revealed that more than 7 million people in Venezuela opposed the new assembly, the White House issued a statement that said, in part, that the “strong and courageous actions [of the Venezuelan people] continue to be ignored by a bad leader who dreams of becoming a dictator.”
Although the United States established diplomatic relations with Venezuela in 1935, the relationship between the two countries has been strained in recent years. The State Department attributes the deterioration of relations to the most recent presidents of Venezuela having partly defined themselves through opposition to the U.S. government and practicing “21st Century Socialism” at the expense of the Venezuelan people and economy. Thus, in December 2016, the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning advising against U.S. citizens visiting Venezuela “due to violent crime, social unrest, and pervasive food and medicine shortages.”
While it is difficult to sum up the political issues of the past century, we can see that decades of economic decline and political instability have taken their toll. (See the timeline posted below.) Tomorrow we will review the toll this has taken on baseball and what current MLB players are saying needs to be done.
The following timeline includes highlights from a chronology published recently by the BBC News and other sources:
1908-35 – Dictator Juan Vicente Gomez in control at the same time Venezuela becomes the world’s largest oil exporter.
1945 – A coup establishes civilian government after decades of military rule.
1948 – A coup overthrows Venezuela’s first democratically-elected leader after eight months of rule
1958 – Leftist Romulo Betancourt of the Democratic Action Party (AD) wins presidential election.
1973 – Venezuela benefits from oil boom and its currency peaks against the US dollar; oil and steel industries nationalized.
1989 – Carlos Andres Perez elected president amid economic depression, launches austerity program. A huge increase in gas prices leads to riots, martial law, and general strike follow; hundreds killed in street violence.
1992 – Two coup attempts by Hugo Chavez and his followers
1993-95 – President Perez impeached on corruption charges.
1998-2013. Hugo Chavez elected president in 1998 amid disenchantment with established parties, launches ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ that brings in new constitution, socialist and populist economic and social policies funded by high oil prices, and increasingly vocal anti-US foreign policy. During his presidency, Chavez will nationalize several industries and sign cooperation accords with Russia. Chavez government temporarily overthrown in 2002, but pro-Chavez forces reinstall Chavez two days later. In March 2005, media regulations are issued which provide stiff fines and prison terms for slandering public figures and Venezuela ends its 35-year military relationship between the U.S. In 2010, Chavez devalues Venezuela’s currency against the U.S. dollar. Later that year, Parliament grants Chavez special powers to deal with devastating floods, prompting opposition fears of greater authoritarianism. In 2012, the Venezuelan government extends price controls on more basic goods in the battle against inflation. Chavez wins a fourth term in office, but dies in April 2013.
2013 – Nicholas Maduro elected president by a less than 2 percent margin. In November, with inflation running at more than 50% a year, the National Assembly gives President Maduro emergency powers for a year, prompting protests by opposition supporters.
2014 – Protests over poor security in the western states of Venezuela win the backing of opposition parties and turn into anti-government rallies. At least 28 people die in the ensuing violence. In November, the government announces cuts in public spending as oil prices continue to drop.
2014-2015 – Opposition figure Maria Corina Machado charged with conspiracy to assassinate President Maduro; opposition mayor of Caracas charged with plotting coup with US support. In December 2015, the opposition Democratic Unity coalition wins two-thirds majority in parliamentary elections, ending 16 years of Socialist Party control.
2016 – Three Democratic Unity deputies resign from the National Assembly parliament in January under Supreme Court pressure, depriving coalition of clear two-thirds majority that would have allowed it to block legislation proposed by President Maduro. In February, Maduro announces measures aimed at fighting economic crisis, including currency devaluation and first petrol price rise in 20 years. In September, hundreds of thousands of people take part in a protest in Caracas calling for the removal of President Maduro, accusing him of responsibility for the economic crisis.