Sat. Jan 22nd, 2022

Venezuela’s opposition won an important symbolic battle to secure the governorship of Barinas State, but analysts say they are still losing the broader political war with government forces.

On the home field of the oil-rich country’s late leader, Hugo Chavez, opposition candidate Sergio Garrido late Sunday defeated the ruling Socialist Party’s Jorge Arreaza, who served as Venezuela’s vice president and foreign minister.

Venezuela holds the world’s largest proven oil reserves but his economy lay in ruins due to what critics said was mismanagement of the country’s oil wealth under Chavez and his successor, current president Nicholas Maduro.

Venezuela’s economy shrank by more than 75 percent between 2014 and 2020, according to the U.S. government’s congressional research service, “the single largest non-war economic collapse in at least 45 years”. More than 5.9 million people have fled the South American nation in search of food and security, causing the Western Hemisphere’s worst refugee crisis, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Juan Guaido, an opposition politician, considers himself the country’s legitimate interim president and is recognized as such by the United States, Canada, Colombia, and more than 50 other countries. However, he has minimal real authority and Maduro’s government controls the presidential palace, as well as the country’s army and bureaucracy.

Despite the election symbolism, the opposition’s victory in Barinas does nothing to “effectively change the balance of power,” said Kurt Weyland, a professor of Venezuelan politics at the University of Texas at Austin.

“The opposition is completely out of options,” Weyland said, adding that for years through protests, negotiations with the government and hope outside powers as the US would intervene on their behalf, the opposition worked to oust Maduro without success.

“They go in circles,” he told Al Jazeera. “The opposition clearly has no leverage and no strategy.”

Venezuela’s government blames the country’s problems on Western sanctions and conspiracies by the US and its allies to undermine Maduro’s leadership.

Analysts have said that the worst of Venezuela’s downward economic spiral is likely to be behind it, but the massacre is widespread, with more than 75 percent of the population now living in extreme poverty, according to a local study published in September.

Oil production, the country’s economic lifeblood that accounts for 99 percent of export earnings, almost doubled during the past year after reaching its lowest point in decades in 2020.

Sanctions by the US and its allies have also taken a toll on oil exports and the industry in general, reducing access to specialized parts and technology to maintain production. Venezuela’s oil exports fell by 38 percent in 2020 after the US government tightened sanctions and reached its lowest level in 77 years.

Touch through unprecedented inflation, the local currency, the bolivar, has been replaced by the US dollar in parts of the capital and other cities. This has led to fewer shortages of basic products and a degree of price stabilization – for the small group of Venezuelans with access to foreign exchange.

Government concession

Jorge Arreaza, the government candidate in Barinas and former president Chavez’s son-in-law, admitted in a Twitter post that he lost party before final results were announced. “Prepare yourselves, for we are going to the counter-offensive: we have not yet played our last hand,” Arreaza said in a message to fans.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro speaks at a ceremony in CaracasVenezuelan President Nicolas Maduro blames Western sanctions and foreign interference for the country’s economic crisis [File: Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

Sunday’s vote was a repeat of the Barinas governor’s race, after the initial election was canceled by a court last year with the opposition at the forefront.

But after elections in December, most state and local governments are now in the hands of Maduro’s supporters for the first time in years. The opposition rejected those elections as chamboli, accusing the government of using state resources to support its campaign and using violent intimidation against its rivals.

A Canadian Foreign Ministry official said that those local elections, like previous votes in Venezuela, could not be considered democratic.

“The United Nations has reported cases of corruption, co-ordination and direct support between non-governmental groups and the Venezuelan state, including its security forces,” Jason Kung, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, told Al Jazeera in an email. , which reflects concern. from the U.S. Department of State.

However, the European Union said those regional and local elections were held despite better conditions than previous competitions. a series of irregularities and other problems.

The government rejects allegations that Venezuela is not democratic. If, for example, the opposition can win the governorship in Barinas, it is difficult to argue that Venezuela is a dictatorship, it says. Caracas maintain tight tires with Russia, China, Turkey and Iran and other nations supporting Maduro.

Guaido’s popularity declines

In addition to expanding its dominance in local government, Maduro supporters now also control Venezuela’s National Assembly, the last institution in the country that was in opposition hands.

Guaido’s movement is also facing internal divisions and waning interest from the wider public after failing to overthrow Maduro into a major public pressure, analysts said.

Orlando Viera-Blanco, who was appointed by Guaido as Venezuela’s ambassador to Canada, told Al Jazeera the opposition had lost some steam over the past year. Many Venezuelans are simply tired of violence and hardship, Viera-Blanco said, and have stopped actively participating in politics while looking for their next meal.

“We have one third of the population facing famine poverty,” Viera-Blanco told Al Jazeera. “This has never happened before in any other country in Latin America.”

Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido greets supporters in low-income neighborhoodVenezuela opposition leader Juan Guaido has similar personal approval ratings with President Maduro, according to a poll released in October [File: Manaure Quintero/Reuters]

Despite the terms, Guaido’s personal approval rating is about the same as Maduro’s. Both have about 15 percent popularity among average Venezuelans, according to a poll released by Datanalisis in October.

“The Venezuelan people are tired of political leaders on all sides,” said Antulio Rosales, a professor of political science at the University of New Brunswick. Divisions between different factions within the opposition movement are strong, he told Al Jazeera.

After declares himself interim president in 2019 and using street protests and foreign support to try to oust Maduro, Guaido yielded virtually nothing in terms of concrete results, exacerbation of divisions within the opposition camp and more interest in talks with the government.

“Maduro, Guaido, the Venezuelan opposition, the regime must sit down and negotiate,” Viera-Blanco told Al Jazeera.

Norway-mediated talks between Maduro’s government and the opposition took place in August. However, the government suspended its involvement in the process in November following the extradition of a politically connected businessman. Alex Saab from Cape Verde to the US on money laundering allegations.

A State Department spokesman told Al Jazeera that Washington supported the resumption of negotiations.

However, future talks will take place on Maduro’s timetable. And with the economy showing some signs of improvement and the opposition losing steam, analysts have said it has little incentive to make concessions.

“While one can never rule out sudden unexpected developments,” Weyland said, “everything points to continuity.”

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