Latinvex: Will the unrest be squashed by Maduro or grow in force?
Arnson: The protests may die down in the short term, due to a combination of factors. First, the government crackdown has been relentless, not only in terms of deaths but also the number of arrests and the government’s determination to clear the streets of barricades. Second, in Venezuela as elsewhere, the public can tire of the difficulty in navigating around the protests, so sympathy with the protestors tends to wane. Third, without visible, positive results, the morale of the protesters themselves will lag. The results are likely to be seen much more over the long term, in that the regime has been incapable of addressing the economic and security crises and the country’s level of polarization. The question is how or if the opposition will build on what has taken place since February to expand its reach into the Chavista base.
To what degree is Maduro losing support among traditional Chavistas as a result of the freefall of the economy?
Arnson: The Chavista base can’t be happy with the ongoing economic turmoil, especially the rate of inflation, which cuts more deeply into the purchasing power of the poor than anyone else. Some transfer of loyalties away from the regime because of economic hardship was clearly seen in the razor-thin vote margin by which Nicolás Maduro won the presidency in 2013. But it’s important to remember that issues of identity and dignity motivate the Chavista base, not just material benefits received through government social programs.
Will Maduro be able to stay in power the next 12 months or will he be replaced by a Chavista or opposition figure?
Arnson: Thus far the protests appear to have united, not divided the regime. The ultimate arbiter of Maduro’s fate will be the armed forces, should future protests look like they are getting out of hand. Maduro’s ability to improve economic performance—a real wild card—will be critical to the consolidation of his power. Equally critical in the near to medium term will be the opposition’s ability to adopt a unified and credible strategy for reaching beyond their core of current supporters.
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