Maduro has pushed Venezuela to the brink of revolution – sanctions and aid may tip it over the edge

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President Maduro still has military support. PHOTO/EPA-EFE

By BEN ZISSIMOS

Venezuela stands close to the brink of another revolution. Acute shortages of food and medicine, along with quintuple-digit inflation, has led to an economic crisis.

With a large amount of much-needed humanitarian aid being held at Venezuela’s borders with Colombia and Brazil, things could turn very violent (some skirmishes have already taken place). The aid has been sent by the US and other international supporters of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

Together they brand President Nicolás Maduro a dictator, believing that he rigged his election in May 2018, and demand that he now stand down and restore democracy. But the army, so far, remains loyal to Maduro and troops have barricaded the border crossings to prevent aid from entering – something Maduro fears is a prelude to US invasion.

In applying my research to the situation in Venezuela, it’s clear that things could soon come to a head. My research shows how dictators can manipulate their trade policies to bolster their political survival, foreclosing democratisation in this process.

Using an economic model, I strip these types of situations down to a few essential ingredients, simplifying an extremely complex set of circumstances to facilitate deeper insight into how they work. Using my model to think about Venezuela’s situation, we can see precisely the role that the world’s powerful countries play through their sanctions and aid in shaping Venezuela’s prospects for democracy.

The basic logic of my model is that the Maduro regime, even as a dictatorship, has to keep the population happy just like any other political regime. After all, while democratic regimes worry about losing power at the ballot box, dictators fear revolution.

The model assumes that people have a sense of how life will be if they overthrew the Maduro regime, through a revolution, paving the way to democracy. Revolution is of course extremely costly and dangerous. But if life becomes so tough for ordinary people that they ultimately feel revolution is worth the costs, then Maduro has the threat of revolution on his hands.

Maduro’s options in the face of the threat of revolution include repression – something he has already experimented with. But, from his perspective, repressing his own people is extremely costly politically. It is also risky, especially when this entails turning against his own support base.

Read more: The Conversation

Ben Zissimos is an Associate Professor of Economics, University of Exeter

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