Venezuela government cracks down on opposition

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Event

The government has accused the opposition of corruption and involvement in a plot to assassinate the president, Nicolás Maduro.

Analysis

Despite some signs of increased pragmatism on the economic front, with regular auctions of foreign currency, the Maduro administration is taking an increasingly hard line politically. There were several indications this week that there will be no let-up in the government’s attempts to portray the opposition as corrupt and bent on violence. Following the lifting of the legislative immunity of a congressman, Richard Mardo (of Primero Justicia, PJ) last week—which opens the way for him to be prosecuted for corruption—the authorities have the party’s key figure and leader of the opposition Mesa de la Unidad Democrática (MUD), Henrique Capriles, firmly in their sights.

After throwing out the opposition’s legal challenge over the results of the April 14th presidential election, the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ, the Supreme Court) fined Mr Capriles and recommended that he be investigated on the grounds that his arguments for a re-run were defamatory of the TSJ itself, and therefore possibly criminal in intent. The following day, military counter-intelligence and the secret police raided the apartment of Oscar López, Mr Capriles’s right-hand man in the Miranda state government. Ruling party legislators claim that Mr López is the head of a PJ corruption ring, and have presented hacked emails as evidence. The leader of the PJ, Julio Borges, says that the correspondence is fake, but there is now an arrest warrant out for Mr López.

The government is adopting similar tactics to when the former president, Hugo Chávez (1999-2013), was in office. As well as accusing the opposition of corruption, Mr Chávez frequently stated that it was trying to assassinate him. In a similar vein, the interior minister, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, claims to have uncovered an international plot involving the MUD to assassinate Mr Maduro and overthrow the government.

With the economic situation worsening rapidly and local elections due in December, Mr Maduro is clearly worried that an opposition that is free to organise and rally voters could deal the ruling Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela a serious blow. Attacks against Mr Capriles and his followers are therefore likely to continue and will be driven by the government’s hope that they will distract public attention away from the economy and keep the opposition off-balance.

Impact on the forecast

These developments underpin our current forecast that political tensions between the government and the opposition will remain high, presenting a risk to stability.