A Decade of Nicolás Maduro

The man Chavez left as his heir led a devastation that will be a case study for decades, and shrank Venezuela in many, many ways. And he’s still there

I think it’s fair to say that the passage of time is normally associated with progress. Over the course of a decade, Germany’s destroyed postwar economy experienced a massive boom which saw its industrial output quadruple between 1948 and 1958. In 1990, the internet had barely two and half million users, by the year 2000 that number would be closer to 400 million. Things can change very quickly over the course of a decade, so now that Nicolas Maduro has officially spent ten years in power over Venezuela, it’s worth asking, how has the country changed?

We can look at the hard numbers for an easy overview. Venezuela’s GDP tumbled from around $373 billion in 2013 to a mere $87 billion; the nation’s crude oil output went from 2.5 million barrels a day to somewhere around 600 thousand a day; and, of course, some 7 million Venezuelans have had to leave the country in the same timeframe.

Now that a decade has passed, the prevailing national mood doesn’t appear to be one of anger but, instead, one of total apathy. The country feels jaded, tired, consumed beneath the waves of cynical realism, and Maduro’s reign has created a setting where any optimistic thought quickly gets laughed out of the room.

In truth, Maduro has made the country smaller, in every single way we can imagine. Our GDP’s smaller, our oil industry’s smaller, our population growth rate got smaller, and even our hopes became smaller.

Dismantling Optimism

A little over a decade ago the country was electric. The 2012 election followed by the death of Hugo Chávez would result in back-to-back presidential campaigns. While the governing PSUV party mobilized its base to reach the highest-ever vote total for a president in the 2012 election, the political opposition managed to put up the closest-ever challenge to PSUV rule just a few months later. The country’s population was highly motivated, with the 2012 election seeing a voter turnout of just over 80%, while the 2013 election between Maduro and Henrique Capriles had a turnout of 79.68%, and resulted in a PSUV win by just over 223,000 votes.

The blows to national morale didn’t stop after that. When we see the relevant dates compressed in history books it’ll feel like a never-ending flurry of punches. In 2014, forty-three people were killed during street protests just ten months into Maduro’s rule. Two years later, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice would declare the National Assembly to be “in contempt,” stripping it of its powers, after chavismo lost it in the 2015 elections by a landslide. Months later, millions of Venezuelans would once again take to the streets, only for over 160 of them to die in violent clashes with state “security” forces, with thousands more being arrested. 2018 saw the presidential elections summoned, illegally, by the National Constituent Assembly, which led to the proclamation of Juan Guaidó as interim president in 2019, followed by another round of bloody street protests that took the lives of another hundred people.

The Age of Apathy

The last decade was loud. We became familiar with the sounds of gunfire and grenade launchers, of wooden planks smashing against riot shields, the blaring of campaign songs, the hiss of tear gas canisters, and all the deafening sounds of protest and strife. 

Years of attempts to change the status quo were met with stiff resistance, re-writing of the rules, and outright illegal behavior. This took a predictable toll on people, one that Maduro had been planning on. Slowly, the fight turned colder and colder as opposition leaders seemed to run out of ideas or just stopped being interested. Quietly, the government’s “neoliberal turn” eased the tensions, as we all finally got a much-deserved taste of how much better things could be. 

People have gone from believing the opposition can win the presidency to just hoping they’ll win a few municipalities. People have gone from hoping good laws will be passed to hoping the ones that do won’t be so terrible. We’ve gone from hoping to break the status quo to hoping for tiny improvements.

Well, I honestly still believe we can do it, but it’s impossible to pretend the mood hasn’t soured on that idea. The same wide avenues that were once charged and crackling with energy now feel narrow and quiet. 

And heavy questions loom over us. What will the next decade look like? What did we think this last one would be like when it began?