Venezuela

Venezuela's crisis explained from the beginning

A look at the country's ongoing protests against the government of President Maduro and the current political situation.

Venezuela's capital, Caracas, has seen almost daily demonstrations in recent weeks, some of which have turned violent.

Critics are accusing President Nicolas Maduro of moving towards a dictatorship, and want him to resign. But Maduro says the opposition is conspiring with foreign entities, specifically the US, to destabilise the country.

On July 30, Venezuelans were called on to choose the members of a new National Constituent Assembly that will be tasked with drafting a new constitution.

President Nicolas Maduro claimed victory in the election, which he says will help save the country from political and economic disaster.

Colombia, Mexico, Peru and other nations joined the US in saying they did not recognise the results of Sunday's election. However, old allies Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia stood by Maduro.

The country is in the middle of a crippling economic crisis that has led to high food prices and a lack of basic goods. Maduro says the economic crisis is due to a US-backed capitalist conspiracy.

1. How did the protests start?

Instability and political turmoil reached a peak on March 30, when Venezuela's Supreme Court magistrates, aligned with socialist President Nicolas Maduro, ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress' legislative powers, in a move condemned by opposition parties as an attempt to install a dictatorship.

In January 2016, the Supreme Court suspended the elections of four legislators - three that were enrolled with the opposition and one with the ruling party - for alleged voting irregularities.

The opposition accused the court of trying to strip them of their super-majority, and went ahead and swore in three of the legislators in question.

READ: Venezuela's worst economic crisis

In response, the Supreme Court ruled that the entire National Assembly was in contempt and all decisions it made would be null.

The deadlock continued, when electoral officials suspended a stay-or-go referendum against Maduro and postponed regional elections until 2017.

After the National Assembly refused to approve the country's state-run oil company, PDVSA ,from forming joint ventures with private companies, the government went to the Supreme Court, which ruled that it will take over the opposition-led Congress' legislative powers.

Security forces violently repressed protests that broke out the next day, and although the court quickly reversed its decision, street protests have continued.

Venezuela: Life after Chavez

 2. What other problems is Venezuela facing?

Venezuela is not facing only one crisis but multiple interconnected crises.

Key among them is the state of the economy. In January 2017, according to estimates by the Finance and Economic Development Commission of the National Assembly (AN), it was predicted that inflation will close this year at 679.73 percent.

However according to the International Monetary Fund, this year and next year's projection is even higher. The organisation estimates that inflation will reach 720.5 percent this year, the highest in the Americas, and  2,068.5 percent by 2018. 

However, the economic crisis is hitting Venezuela's public health system the hardest. In the country's public hospitals, medicine and equipment are increasingly not available.

READ MORE: Why some Venezuelans have turned to bitcoin mining

During a three-year economic crisis and record levels of violent crime and poverty, Maduro's popularity has dipped to its lowest point of the last few years.

He also has been accused of using authoritarian methods to stop dissent.

Venezuela's political opposition has been represented mainly by the Democratic Unity Roundtable, a coalition of different parties including centrist, centre-left, left-wing and centre-right parties.

Many Venezuelans distrust parts of the coalition, which includes figures who were active in politics decades ago. 

The strength of the coalition has also been hit by internal power struggles as well as disagreements over ideology and policy.

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3. What is the government defending? 

Maduro ordered the military on to the streets to defend the leftist  "Bolivarian Revolution" launched by his late mentor Hugo Chavez in 1999.

"From the first reveille, from the first rooster crow, the Bolivarian National Armed Forces will be in the streets ... saying, 'Long live the Bolivarian Revolution'," he said in a televised address.

Maduro denounced his opponents as "traitors" and praised the military's "unity and revolutionary commitment".

WATCH: Is it the end of socialism in Venezuela? (25:00) 

4. What are the latest developments?

The current wave of marches, the most sustained protests against Maduro since 2014, has sparked regular clashes in which youths and National Guard troops exchange volleys of rocks and tear gas.

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"We are protesting, because we are in disagreement with the government of Nicolas Maduro. We are experiencing a serious crisis that is suffocating us," journalist Leonardo Bruzual told Al Jazeera. 

On July 30, Venezuelans were called on to choose the members of a new National Constituent Assembly that will be tasked with drafting a new constitution.

President Nicolas Maduro claimed victory in the election, which he says will help save the country from political and economic disaster.

Colombia, Mexico, Peru and other nations joined the US in saying they did not recognise the results of Sunday's election. However, old allies Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua and Russia stood by Maduro.

The election, which spurred unrest that killed at least 10 people, was labelled illegitimate by leaders across the Americas and Europe.

Meanwhile, two prominent opposition leaders who urged Venezuelans to join protests against Maduro were taken from their homes in overnight raids. 

Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezema, who were both under house arrest, were picked up by intelligence services late at night, members of their families said on Twitter. 

The opposition has vowed to continue protests. 

Source: Al Jazeera News