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Venezuelan opposition wins: What it means for Belize

Posted: Monday, December 7, 2015. 12:00 pm CST.

Nicolás Maduro

President Nicolas Maduro

BMG: Venezuela’s opposition Democratic Alliance has won an overwhelming mid-term congressional victory in that country’s December 6th elections, claiming just about two-thirds control in the National Assembly.

Ballots for several seats in Venezuela are still being tallied but winning at least 101 of the 167 seats in the National Assembly would allow the opposition to free political prisoners like Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor well known outside Venezuela, enact basic laws, and approve the budget and government debt.

The overwhelming majority in the Assembly would also permit the passage of powerful laws that could lead to a host of deep overhauls. The opposition could also remove the vice president or ministers. Two-thirds of the assembly would give them the power to restructure a judiciary that human-rights groups say is stacked with government supporters.

Crucially, two thirds could also give the opposition the ability to call a constituent assembly to write a new constitution and propose constitutional reforms via a referendum, moves that could threaten President Nicolas Maduro’s hold on power.

The results are a major blow to Maduro and the ruling Socialist party’s 16-year reign started by former President Hugo Chavez. But what does it mean for Belize and for the future of the PetroCaribe program, which Belize has been so dependent on for the last few years?

The new legislature that takes over January 5th has pledged to fix what the International Monetary Fund (IMF) considers the world’s worst-performing economy. Though rich in oil, Venezuela is ravaged by inflation above 200%, rampant food shortages, a local currency that has shed 81% of its value in 2015, as well as low oil prices that have left the government broke and unable to import basics like medicine and car parts.

Pulling out of that death spiral, economists say, will require a series of painful and unpopular adjustments, rolling back more than a decade of populist and statist policies. Among the measures needed is raising the price of the world’s cheapest gasoline—which goes for less than one U.S. penny a gallon—overhauling a cumbersome and inefficient foreign-exchange system, and cutting generous social programs on which many of the poor depend.

With Belize set to begin repayments of the over $500 million PetroCaribe loan to Venezuela in 2016, it’s a safe bet that country’s parliament will be looking to make good on its debt collections.

Some time ago the National Trade Union Congress of Belize (NTUCB) had indicated that during a meeting with the Prime Minister, he said to them his government hadn’t yet started devising a plan to repay the loan because there was sufficient time to do so. That plan should already be in place at this point, considering Venezuela’s dire economic state.

Belize is already heavily indebted to other countries and financial institutions, several industries are struggling and economic outlook based on assessments from numerous credit rating agencies and economic experts have given Belize a bleak economic prognosis. Still, the loan must be paid. Time will tell what measures the government will take to ensure it meets its debt obligations and then the real cost for every Belizean will be revealed.


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