Last week, dozens of Venezuelans living in Texas protested in front of the Venezuelan consulate in Houston, in support of their country’s opposition movement. Anti-government protests in Venezuela are entering their third week and at least five people have died so far in clashes between protesters and riot police.
The latest wave of protests was triggered by a Venezuelan Supreme Court decision that suspended the power of the country’s legislature – the opposition-led National Assembly. Although the court swiftly reversed the decision following domestic and international backlash, many viewed the suspension as President Nicolás Maduro’s latest attempt to consolidate power.
“The opposition group constitutes a very large portion of Venezuela’s population,” says Caitlin Andrews, a PhD. student at the University of Texas at Austin who researches Hugo Chávez’s legacy in Venezuela. She says most Venezuelans oppose Maduro’s regime, and the president’s approval has dropped to 30 percent.
“It’s difficult to point out when the so-called authoritarian backsliding, or the erosion of democracy actually began, but it’s unquestionably gotten worse in recent years, and under Maduro in particular,” Andrews says.
On April 7, Maduro banned Henrique Capriles, the top opposition leader, from running for office for 15 years. Presidential elections are scheduled for next year.
The protests are as much about ongoing shortages of food, goods and medicine, and rising rate of crime and inflation as they are about political issues.
“Upwards of 80 percent of [Venezuelans] identify the current situation as being very negative,” Andrews says.
Andrews says that it’s unclear how the U.S. will respond to the situation in Venezuela. But if the recent meeting of the Organization of American States is any indication, the U.S. might take more of a backseat role.
“[The U.S.] let Mexico take center stage and leadership with the Venezuela issue,” Andrews says. “That’s been seen in the scholarly community as a really wise decision because the U.S. can so easily be targeted as an imperial power and can even serve to benefit the regime in Venezuela.”