Political Crisis in Venezuela

Political Crisis in Venezuela

Deepening political crisis in Venezuela leading to civil violence and potential regional instability

Venezuela faces political and economic instability as President Nicolás Maduro’s deeply unpopular government seeks to quell widespread unrest. Oil prices have dropped dramatically since June 2014, exacerbating recession and increasing inflation in the oil-dependent economy. Rapid economic decline has placed great strain on the Maduro regime: it is widely believed that his public support is at 25%, an approval rating significantly lower than that of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez.  


Anti-Maduro demonstrations, which first broke out in February 2014, have been met with a severe government crackdown on the political opposition. Security forces responded to protests with widespread violence: a May 2014 Human Rights Watch report documents the abuse of over 150 victims. More recent efforts to suppress opposition activists, such as the imprisonment of prominent opposition mayors Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, ahead of congressional elections scheduled for December 6, 2015 has led to increased political turbulence. Claiming to take legitimate action against smugglers and paramilitaries, Maduro temporarily closed parts of the Colombia-Venezuela border and deported thousands of Colombians during August and September 2015, in what many believe to be a political ploy to divert blame for his nation’s troubles away from his administration. The deportations elicited criticism from international human rights organizations and ruffled diplomatic relations with Venezuela’s neighbor.  

In December 2014, the United States passed legislation to impose sanctions on Venezuelan officials involved in violence against protesters. Civil unrest, heightened authoritarianism, and rapidly accumulating government debt in Venezuela could threaten important U.S. economic and regional interests. As Venezuela is one of the largest foreign oil suppliers, the United States and global oil markets would likely react negatively to a complete deterioration of U.S.-Venezuelan bilateral trade. The United States also has a strong interest in promoting democratic governance and free markets as the basis for a more politically stable and economically prosperous region.

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  • Shannon K. O'Neil

    Nelson and David Rockefeller Senior Fellow for Latin America Studies and Director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program

  • Michael A. Levi

    David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Maurice R. Greenberg Center for Geoeconomic Studies