We the People: The First Steps to Take Back Venezuela
Originally published on February 23, 2018
Over the past two decades, the situation in Venezuela has inched closer and closer to a breaking point. The rule of leftist President Nicolas Maduro has devolved into a dictatorship, as opposition from his citizens has been met with stiff government crackdowns and imprisoning those who question the legitimacy of his office. Furthermore, Venezuela’s economy seems to have collapsed after years of volatility and hyperinflation. These problems have given rise to a mass exodus from the country, causing a great deal of instability in the region. As the Venezuelan government struggles to contain the situation, one must wonder whether the situation can truly be resolved without further violence. the collapse of one of the world’s leading producers in oil could cause massive volatility in the world economy over the next few years. The issues begin with the highest levels of authority within the state. Under the leadership of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela was one of the more powerful countries in South America; the economy’s dependence on oil was seen as an unimportant issue because the demand for the product was so high throughout the first half of the 21st century. Despite the high demand for oil, the government was never stable. Chavez survived multiple coups against his regime and continued to establish authoritarian rule as oppositional support grew. With his death in 2013, the regime had become a full-fledged dictatorship, riddled with reports of human rights abuses and questions about the legitimacy of the government’s election. His successor, Nicholas Maduro, has driven the country into a downward economic spiral, causing mass protests from his opposers that have pushed the country closer to revolution than ever before. Venezuela’s populist tendencies are largely to blame for Maduro’s demise as well. Although Chavez’s government dealt with various uprisings, he survived because of his charm and charisma as a leader. Maduro, on the other hand, does not possess the same leadership abilities as his mentor and has ultimately been rejected by his people.
The cause for the country’s economic collapse goes far beyond the leadership alone. The devaluation of the Venezuelan currency, the bolivar, has caused massive hikes in inflation. In fact, the International Monetary Fund estimates an economic contraction of 15% this year, which means that by the end of 2018, the GDP will be cut to half of what it was in 2013 and inflation will reach 13000%. To put this into perspective, the Wall Street Journal documented the price for a local church in Caracas to buy eggs with mass donations. Half a year ago, the minister could buy 30 eggs with one mass’s worth of donations. Today, he would need 50 masses to buy the same number of eggs. This hyperinflation has made it impossible for the majority of Venezuelan families to buy even the bare necessities for everyday life.
Consequently, there has been a mass exodus out of the country that has caused a migrant crisis comparable to the situation in Europe going on today. Over the last 20 years, the Wall Street Journal reports that approximately 3 million people, which would equate for about 10% of the country, have left in search of a better life for themselves and their families. This has created a migrant crisis across all of South America, and naturally, the effects are most felt by the neighbor to the East, Columbia. The Colombian government has absorbed almost 550,000 Venezuelan immigrants over the last two years, which has resulted in a great deal of instability on the two countries’ border. Last week, Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos travelled to the border town of Cucuta to impose new restrictions on migration due to rising crime rates and overflowing hospitals in the region. Thus, the Venezuelan people are out of money, out of time, and out of effective leadership to efficiently and effectively solve the problem.
Without a stable government or economy, there seem to be few options on how to address this issue. One of the initial steps that must be taken is to find a replacement to their oppressive leader, Nicolas Maduro. The Venezuelan president has refused to address the collapse of the economy and instead strengthens government control of business, especially their state-run oil company. Maduro also must answer for his clear human rights abuses, specifically his inability to feed his people. This hasn’t happened yet because Maduro has maintained support from the government and the military. Although the opposition has become the majority, these opinions have largely come from voices in the working class rather than those in meaningful positions of power in Venezuelan society. Thus, oppositional forces have largely been oppressed by the government and military.
Consequently, the next step that must be taken is to address the lack of food supply within the state. The world trade organization estimates that the country’s food imports have dropped in half since Maduro’s election. Furthermore, the country’s agricultural wing is collapsing, as pig farming production has dropped by 71%. Some citizens are reduced to eating anything they can get their hands on, as 11-year-old Sergio Jesus Sorjas states, ““I sometimes go to the butcher and I say, ‘Sir, do you have any bones you can give me?’” This requires an immediate response from the international community in the short-term. Food aid should be given out to the general population before steps can be taken to stabilize the agriculture industry in the long term. The population but first avoid starvation before they can take the steps towards rebuilding the industry as a whole.
Although the situation is dire, all hope should not be lost. The Venezuelan people have repeatedly voiced their discontent through multiple protests and referendums that have been met with international support against the Maduro regime. Once a new government is put in place, the people can begin to rebuild and work their way back to normalcy. By replacing the leadership and providing the bare necessities to succeed, Venezuela can begin its march back to international relevance united as one.
Forero, Juan. “Venezuela Is Starving.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 5 May 2017, www.wsj.com/articles/venezuela-is-starving-1493995317.
“Venezuela Profile - Timeline.” BBC News, BBC, 1 Nov. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-19652436.
Gillespie, Patrick. “Venezuela Just Defaulted, Moving Deeper into Crisis.” CNNMoney, Cable News Network, money.cnn.com/2017/11/14/news/economy/venezuela-debt-default-sp/index.html.
Vyas, Kejal. “How Fast Are Prices Skyrocketing in Venezuela? See Exhibit A: the Egg.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 5 Feb. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/how-fast-are-prices-skyrocketing-in-venezuela-see-exhibit-a-the-egg-1517832001?mod=searchresults&page=2&pos=6.
Forero, Juan. “Venezuela's Misery Fuels Migration on Epic Scale.” The Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones & Company, 13 Feb. 2018, www.wsj.com/articles/venezuelas-misery-fuels-migration-on-epic-scale-1518517800?mod=nwsrl_africa_news&cx_refModule=nwsrl#cx_testId=16&cx_testVariant=ctrl&cx_artPos=8.