Between isolation and alliances – Venezuela’s uncertain future

Between isolation and alliances – Venezuela’s uncertain future

Nicolas Maduro’s victory in this month’s regional elections has strengthened his leadership position and drastically reduced the opposition’s hope for a victory in Venezuela’s 2018 presidential elections. If he retains his presidency next year, will he be able to count on the support of his Latin American allies?

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s victory in the regional elections on 15 October was met with harsh criticisms from the opposition, which reacted to its unexpected defeat by accusing the Socialist party of electoral irregularities. Whether the victory was fraudulent or not, it suggests that the opposition is less likely to succeed in the 2018 Presidential Election. It is still unclear whether Maduro will run as a presidential candidate or whether the party will nominate a substitute, but there is a strong possibility that the PSUV will remain in power.

While the United States and the European Union already expressed their intention to impose further sanctions on Venezuela as a measure against Maduro, his regional alliances are as important to his regime’s endurance as they are unstable. This is largely because the region is undergoing a period of political change and instability. A series of crucial elections in 2017 and 2018 hold potentially serious implications for Maduro’s regime.

The decline of Latin America’s socialist parties

Nicolas Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, have historically enjoyed strong support by several other countries in Latin America, most notably Argentina, Bolivia, Cuba and Ecuador. The regime has received strong backing from both traditionally leftist governments and other economic allies of Venezuela. Nevertheless, recent political shifts and the fall of leftist governments in the region may reinforce the Maduro’s regional isolation.

The clearest example of such changes is the recent election of Ecuador’s new President Lenin Moreno, who expressed his wish to build stronger ties with Washington rather than continuing Correa’s ideological and strategic support to Socialist Venezuela and Maduro’s legitimacy as a leader. Moreno, elected in April of this year, has already publicly accused Maduro’s party of violence and the imprisonment of political opponents and discontinued Ecuador’s ambassadors to Venezuela and Cuba.

These actions are indicative of the weakening of the left-leaning alliance that Maduro and his party have historically relied on for support. Similarly, Argentina’s President Macri – elected in 2015 and widely supported in mid-term elections this past October – recently committed to strengthen his alliance with President Trump in order to oppose Maduro’s recent measures and to restore a democratic regime in the country.

Other regional actors, such as the relatively conservative governments of Chile, Peru, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico, are even more unlikely to support Maduro. Criticism of the Maduro regime has been especially evident with regards to the violent protests that occurred throughout 2017, mainly rooted in humanitarian concerns, severe economic shortages and a perceived deterioration of democratic institutions in the country.

On the other hand, Maduro can still count on the support of Bolivian president Evo Morales, who defended the creation of the new Venezuelan assembly and condemned acts of foreign aggression towards the country. Similarly, Maduro has recently reiterated the importance of his party’s alliance with Cuba for both economic and military cooperation. However, even Cuba’s future support is in question, as Venezuela’s dire economic situation and anti-Maduro pressure from Washington have cast doubts on Cuba’s future support of the PSUV and its leader.

The rise of populism in Latin America

In recent years, centrist governments have flourished in Latin America, isolating President Maduro. However, it is unclear if this centrist trend will continue in the long term, as a climate of discontent with democracy and with the inability of traditional political candidates to curb crime and corruption may give way to a tide of leftist populism and help Maduro’s Venezuela.

In Mexico, for instance, leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is leading in the polls for the July 2018 presidential elections. Some members of his party, Morena, have been openly supportive of the Maduro regime. Similarly, in Colombia, the left-wing politician Gustavo Petro is supported by a significant part of the Colombian electorate, which will vote for President in May 2018. Importantly, Petro’s take on Maduro is muddled. He has been criticized for supporting Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly; however, the candidate has taken care to distance himself from Maduro’s economic and social policies.

It is still too early to predict with confidence the effect that such candidates would have on Maduro’s leadership. However, they would certainly have a strongly divisive effect on the so-called Lima Group, which consists of 12 countries that openly oppose Venezuela’s new constituent assembly.

To what extent, then, is President Maduro suffering from regional isolation? At the moment, his regime does not enjoy widespread support from other Latin American governments, as the number of historical allies have decreased and the threat of further US-backed sanctions becomes a real possibility. Nevertheless, victory by populist candidates in the near future may turn things around for the Venezuelan President, at least with regards to the opposition he faces by the Lima Group countries. Whether Maduro will earn the support or the ire of the the future leaders of Latin America remains to be seen.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Benedetta Di Matteo

Benedetta obtained a LLM degree in International Laws from Maastricht University, specializing in Public International Law and International Relations. Benedetta worked as an open source analyst for Horizon Intelligence, a Brussels-based political risk firm, focusing on political and security trends in Latin America. She also completed a traineeship at the Council of Europe's Economic Crime and Cooperation Division. Benedetta focuses on international security issues, including transnational crimes.