For the first time in 16 years, Venezuela’s opposition has won a majority in the legislature, setting up a potential showdown with President Nicolás Maduro, whose government has presided over a catastrophic economic decline in the oil-rich South American nation. Reuters:
Ecstatic opposition leaders vowed on Monday to use their new majority in Venezuela’s legislature to free jailed opponents of the Socialist government but also said they would not move to dismantle popular welfare policies.
The opposition Democratic Unity coalition won more than twice the number of National Assembly seats as the Socialists in elections on Sunday that punished President Nicolas Maduro’s government for the country’s deep economic and social crisis.
Venezuela’s socialist regime has been crumbling since the death of Hugo Chávez in 2013. Chávez consolidated power through the force of his charisma, which is to say he silenced opposition, falsified official statistics, and rigged elections. But his death also coincided with the collapse of the global commodities market. Even without plummeting oil prices, Maduro would have struggled to repeat Chávez’s performance. But now, Venezuelans’ discontent has reached new highs and the leaders aren’t powerful enough to appease or silence it. Whether the opposition can continue to gain seats and perhaps even win the presidency is the big question.
Venezuela is one of three major flailing leftist regimes in Latin America. In Brazil, President Dilma Rousseff faces impeachment. Argentina is nearing a historic transition of power from the Peronist Kirchner dynasty to the centrist regime of businessman Mauricio Macri. Although Washington must tread carefully given the strong anti-American sentiments many Latin Americans harbor, the United States should be looking to support these hopeful, if nascent, efforts at reform.