Much of this was down to the failing economy. Venezuelans found themselves living with one of the world’s worst inflation rates, and waiting hours in line to buy food, medicines and basic goods. Eventually the pressure became too much, and the opposition began to organise what became a mass protest movement.
Rather than listening to this anger, Maduro’s government clamped down. Without any credible evidence or an independent trial, it imprisoned key opposition leader Leopoldo López, along with opposition mayors and hundreds of students. Since the start of the protests, more than 40 people have been killed.
The Maduro government has lasted nearly four years by resorting to sheer authoritarianism. Loyal individuals now hold office in all the state’s institutions; the only branch of government not dominated is the National Assembly, where the opposition holds two-thirds of the seats. But the assembly’s efforts to call a referendum to revoke Maduro’s election have been successfully blocked, while state governor elections have been postponed to some as-yet-undeclared date in 2017.
With Maduro’s approval rating now below 20% and the government’s coffers empty, the government’s imperative to survive is trumping fundamental democratic principles.
Today, the government is still resisting calls to release political prisoners and hold a recall referendum that Maduro would probably lose. It has even ignored the pressure from the 14 countries of the Organisation of American States. The Chávistas know they’ve lost most of their core vote and exhausted their revolution’s credibility, propped up as it was by now-scarce petro-dollars and a deceased icon’s personal charisma.