Venezuela: What you need to know

Venezuela, the country that once boasted on being the hub of international business in South America, is suffering from hyperinflation, extreme poverty, and a humanitarian crisis. The Caribbean country is experiencing an exodus, with millions feeling to Columbia and other neighboring countries.

Since socialist President Nicholas Maduro took the mantle of power in 2014, Venezuela’s economy took a downturn and its grasp on national oil prices floundered.  The Venezuelan economy has always relied heavily upon their oil as the main source of their economy, but since 2012 exports have begun to drop significantly.

Maduro has stayed in power for several years despite his violent crackdowns on protesters and his opposition calling for him to step down. In 2017, Maduro took care of a much-deflated opposition by stripping away the powers of an already weakened legislature.

Countrywide protests followed the announcement of Maduro winning the 2018 election, protesters called the election rigged and his government corrupt. Juan Guaido was one of the loudest voices contesting the president’s win.

Guaido, an engineer and rookie lawmaker of the opposition party, called for a new election to replace the one in 2018 and for Maduro to step down. With the support of his party, Guaido named himself as the interim president until a new election elected a president. Shortly after, the US and Europe instated sanctions on Venezuela and 14 South American countries pulled their ambassadors from the nation.

How bad are things in Venezuela?

Today, even after Juan Guaido’s defiance, Maduro refuses to lessen his grip on power.  Meanwhile, the Venezuelan people wrestle with political oppression, famine, crippled health care, hunger, and widespread poverty.

In 2018, the International Monetary Fund announced that Venezuela’s inflation rate had reached over 1,000,000 percent which leaves the country in a similar state to how Germany was after the first World War. Venezuela’s central bank reports that consumer prices have risen 46,000 percent from 2017 to 2018.

Consumers report difficulty being able to buy or obtain grocery essentials such as beef, eggs or milk. The Venezuelan government has begun to ration these products in hope to provide everyone with enough, but the efforts have failed as many are left hungry and without food.

The Time reports how nine out of ten households say they don’t have enough money to buy food and almost two-thirds of Venezuelans go to bed hungry. A report released by the country’s officials stated that in 2017 the average Venezuelan lost 27 pounds that year.

According to the United Nations Economic Commissions, the five-year-long economic crisis has taken an enormous toll on the Venezuelan public. 90% of the citizens now live in rampant poverty, a shift from 2014 when the poverty rate was only 48%.

During March, the country experienced four widespread outages that lasted several days and left Venezuelans without electricity, water or communication services.  The people took to the streets to protest Maduro’s regime in hopes to oust him out of power.

On Sunday, Maduro outlined out a new initiative to combat the several outages that plagued the Venezuelan people. He blames opposition businesses that are in league with the United States for Venezuela’s current economic woes.

A decades-long record of low infant mortality has been ruined under the Maduro government. According to a 2016 World Health Organization report, Venezuela saw a rise in infant deaths of 21 in every 1000 children. The report also stated that malaria cases among children have skyrocketed and are the leading reason for infant related deaths.

Venezuelans also report the few available health care facilities are either understaffed and undersupplied, while many others have closed their doors. Due to the shortages, most Venezuelans are forced to bring their own medicine and medical supplies to the hospital. Many doctors have also left the country to escape the country’s ghastly living conditions, furthering the deepening health care crisis.

The continuing crisis in Venezuela has given a pathway to crime, leaving many citizens no choice but to join. The Venezuelan Observatory of Violence states that Venezuela has the highest rate of murder in the world. In 2017, 89 out of 1000 people were victims of murder.

 

What happened?

In the 1980s, Venezuela touted a robust economy centralized in oil and natural gas exports, international commerce and big business.

When the socialist candidate Hugo Chavez won the presidency, he brought forth a “Bolivarian Revolution” that was centered in a new socialist constitution and a populist government. Chavez was championed by the working and poorer class because he promised to create a government that would look after its people. And for a while, that’s what he did.

Early in his term, he begun to pass laws that were geared in redistributing land and wealth, many businesses and labor groups were worried that he was trying to consolidate economic and political power.

Despite being unpopular with the middle and higher classes he was still winning elections and was elected a third time by a wide margin as the lower class loved him and continued to support him.

By his third term, he had passed laws that nationalized energy and telecommunication companies, outlawed media ridicule of public or government figures and was well on his way to nationalizing oil companies.

Chavez, perhaps unknowingly, created the perfect conditions for the next person elected into office to be able to stay there.

In 2013, after several years of struggling with cancer, Chavez died. But before he did he recommended to the public that Nicholas Maduro be the next president.

Nicholas Maduro, Chavez’s right-hand man, ran for president in 2013 and narrowly won by a narrow margin over his opponent. He has been president ever since.

What’s Next?

Well, that’s any one’s guess.

Many have come to support Juan Guiado’s claim as the interim president, even President Trump, Defense Secretary John Bolton, and the EU. After being briefly arrested by what Maduro called “rogue agents”, Guiado was forced to flee to the United States. In March, he decided to go back to Venezuela to continue to rally support from South American allies that agree with the legitimacy of his claim.

Guaido is not worried about being arrested by Maduro and has said that he has laid out a clear plan for his allies to follow.  He also said that he is against any type of foreign military intervention and has several ways planned on how to out Nicholas Maduro.

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