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The Maduro Regime's Illicit Activities: A Threat to Democracy in Venezuela and Security in Latin America

By Douglas Farah The Atlantic Council

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Wikimedia/Name withheld on request of copyright owner. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Photo produced unaltered.
Protests in February 2014 against the Nicolas Maduro government in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.
Wikimedia/Name withheld on request of copyright owner. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. Photo produced unaltered.
Protests in February 2014 against the Nicolas Maduro government in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.
Protests in February 2014 against the Nicolas Maduro government in Maracaibo, Venezuela’s second largest city.
Photo By: Wikimedia/Name withheld on request of copyright owner
VIRIN: 190205-D-KG403-0001

  • Nicolás Maduro’s global web of illicit activities provides a lifeline of support to his regime and impedes a restoration of democratic stability in Venezuela.
  • Though the Maduro regime's partners of choice include authoritarian states such as Russia and Iran, the criminal network has also reached actors in democracies in Western Europe.
  • Disrupting Maduro's criminality will require sustained pressure and the close collaboration of international partners, especially among the United States, Europe, and Venezuela's neighbors.

Two months after the internationally recognized interim government marked its first year, Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis, the worst ever in the Western Hemisphere’s modern history, entered a new phase. The coronavirus pandemic, which has rattled even the most developed nations, is further straining a crippled health system already unable to provide even the most basic medicines, stalling an economy in never-ending hyperinflationary collapse, and fueling social unrest as food and gasoline become increasingly scarce.1 Nicolás Maduro has taken advantage of this crisis to further restrict political liberties and stifle any political dissent.

The pandemic has also disrupted migrant and refugee flows. Still, worsening conditions inside the country will inevitably force even more Venezuelans to seek better lives elsewhere, at the same time that regional neighbors struggle with their own public resources already pushed to the brink. The reverberations of a growing migration crisis—the world’s largest outside of war—will place increasing strains on fragile institutions across the region already reeling from the shocks of coronavirus.

The need for a political resolution to the Venezuela crisis is more urgent than ever. In June 2019, following a humanitarian agreement with the interim government, the regime-controlled Supreme Court appointed new officials to the national electoral body for this year’s legislative elections in a move to shore up regime control of the vote. Opposition figures are under increasing attack, while the regime is focused on creating divisions to erode the unity of democratic forces.

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Mr. Douglas Farah is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University.