Texas Tech University

Expert: World Turning its Back as Democracy Collapses in Venezuela

Glenys Young

October 21, 2016

Iñaki Sagarzazu is an assistant professor in the Texas Tech University Department of Political Science who specializes in Venezuelan politics and how institutions’ roles in politics affect individual voters.

Iñaki Sagarzazu
Iñaki Sagarzazu

Venezuela is well on its way to becoming an autocracy.

Last year's elections left a divided government: on one side, president Nicolas Maduro, on the other, the opposition-controlled National Assembly. As the economy fell deeper into recession, inflation accelerated and shortages increased, the opposition requested a referendum to remove Maduro from office. But after nearly a year of clashes between the two, the country's pro-president Supreme Court last week removed the National Assembly's budgetary authority. Opponents argued the move takes away the checks and balances dictated in their constitution.

On Monday (Oct. 17), the Supreme Court ruled the opposition needs to collect signatures from 20 percent of registered voters in every state in order to activate a referendum against Maduro. But on Thursday (Oct. 20) four pro-president governors and one prominent lawmaker said their state courts are blocking the collection of those signatures, scheduled to begin next week.

Iñaki Sagarzazu is an assistant professor in the Texas Tech University Department of Political Science who specializes in Venezuelan politics and how institutions' roles in politics affect individual voters. His research has been published in the American Journal of Political Science, British Journal of Political Science, Political Behavior, West European Politics, Political Science Research & Methods, Latin American Politics & Society, and Policy Studies Journal as well as in several book chapters in edited volumes. He teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Latin American politics and political communications. Sagarzazu sometimes posts his political analyses on Twitter and his blog. He is fluent in both English and Spanish.


Iñaki Sagarzazu, assistant professor of political science, (806) 834-7866 or inaki.sagarzazu@ttu.edu

Talking points

  • While democracy collapses in Venezuela the world looks the other way.
  • Since January the government has significantly eroded democracy by:
  • refusing to accept the results of the 2015 parliamentary elections
  • using the court system to unconstitutionally attack the newly elected parliament
  • using unconstitutional mechanisms to approve the budget and executive branch decrees
  • using the electoral authority to slow down the process of the recall referendum
  • using lower courts to kill the recall referendum
  • imprisoning political opposition without trial or judicial orders
  • The further erosion of democracy has come from the realization of the government that voters who previously supported the president have defected to the opposition due to the severity of the crisis.


  • “The 2015 parliamentary election dealt a big blow to the Maduro regime by allowing two-thirds control of the newly elected congress to be in the hands of the opposition. This two-thirds majority is sufficient to have wide powers to propose amendments to the constitution, remove members of other branches of government and exercise controls on the executive branch. The government defeat came by the hand of former supporters of the government who, in light of the precarious situation in the country, held the government accountable by voting for the opposition.”
  • “At what point did Venezuela become a dictatorship? While many had argued in the past that Venezuelan democracy had eroded to the point of dictatorship, Venezuela still held elections that, even with significant difficulties for the opposition, allowed Venezuelans the free exercise of their right to vote. However, it wasn't until the Supreme Court's decision to hold off the swearing-in of four deputies from the State of Amazonas due to unsubstantiated claims of fraud that the regime effectively broke the rule of holding elections and accepting defeat. This judicial maneuvering to stop the opposition from effectively occupying the full two-thirds of parliament became the tipping point in the classification of Venezuela as a full authoritarian regime.”
  • “What will happen in Venezuela? Venezuela's 1999 Constitution allowed for the recall of all elected officials as a mechanism of the people to hold their elected officials accountable. During the last three years the government has done everything in its hands to stop any form of accountability. However, the current economic and social situation is creating increasing pressure on the political system; the recall referendum should be the release valve of such pressure. By removing this valve, the government is inciting for protests which, with 80 percent disapproval ratings, it might not be able to control without the use of excessive force.”
  • “Since the beginning of 2016 the Venezuelan people have been requesting the realization of the recall referendum, with the government and all the branches it controls making unnecessary and unconstitutional obstacles for its realization. At the same time the international community has remained either a very passive actor or an accomplice of the government. The Organization of American States has been paralyzed by its never-ending attempt at consensus decision making and so it has failed to apply the Democratic Charter on Venezuela. At the same time the Union of South American Nations has attempted to organize talks as a way to buy the government more time. Governments in the region have remained silent on the violation of human rights and on the elimination of the right to vote of the people of Venezuela.”

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