On Sunday, a vote took place in Venezuela that concerned the creation of a controversial, anti-democratic institution: The Constituent Assembly. Despite mass opposition to the government, there was no option to reject the creation of such an institution. Voters on Sunday were only given a list of candidates to select, all of whom are loyal to President Maduro and his hard-left, socialist coalition grouping known as the Great Patriotic Pole.
In other words, the vote was a sham, and marks another step down on the road to autocracy
Venezuela has been a country ‘in distress’ since 2012. Food shortages, hyperinflation and mass protests had sadly become commonplace by 2013. This was caused by a dip in the global oil price, which hit Venezuela particularly hard, due to the economic policies of Hugo Chavez – the former charismatic President, which saw the economy of the country based almost solely around Venezuela’s vast oil reserves.
When the price dipped, instead of liberalising the economy and curbing public spending levels, Chavez continued to spend freely without care. Since taking over in 2013, his successor, President Nicolas Maduro, has tried and failed to continue this overspend. His regime has continually and consistently violated his citizens’ human rights – state torture is widely spoke of by protestors. Madura has also wilfully ignored the result of the 2015 election result that saw the centrist, anti-Maduro coalition, the 'Democratic Unity Roundtable', win a supermajority in the nation’s parliament.
This is what makes the potential fallout from Sunday’s vote particularly worrying.
The result of the vote – the creation of the Constituent Assembly and dissolution of the legitimate National Assembly – will confirm what many have feared: Maduro is seeking to remove democracy.
To make matters worse, the threat of the crisis spilling over into other Latin American nations could prove to be incredibly destabilising for the whole continent. Brazil, for example, finds itself marred by yet another corruption scandal, with the political inaction in the country’s parliament seeing income levels fall and poverty levels increase. If the fallout from Venezuela was to spill over, the already hot tempers of the Brazilian people could flare up even higher, leading to civil disobedience, protests, and further instability. Columbia is also another major concern. Whilst the conflict between FARC and the Columbian government seems to have subsided, if the conflict seen in Venezuela spilled over into Columbia (a nation that has already taken a large number of Venezuelan refugees), then who knows what could happen.
Venezuela is, if you look on social media sites like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, currently being used as a political football, with little care as to why the crisis in the country could prove more dangerous than it is. “This is what Bernie [Sanders] wanted guys” is a comment I regularly come across, alongside others like “if you vote Corbyn, this is what the UK will get”. Whilst I highly doubt that those like Sanders would have copied Maduro’s policies, there are lessons to be learnt from the crisis, namely that the best economy a country can have is one that is open to private enterprise as opposed to being under total state control.
However, the real reason we should pay attention to Venezuela is not solely because of this, nor the fact that Sunday’s vote marks the end of democracy in the country. The reason we should pay close attention is this: if the crisis does spill over, Latin America could become an incredibly unstable, angry continent indeed.