Whilst we talk of the Venezuelan crisis, this actually refers to multiple inter connected crises occurring at the same time, resulting in a socio-economic crash, violent unrest, police brutality and the death of over 100 people. Praised for its commitment to the ideals of democracy, Venezuela was once in possession of a flourishing economy, with the largest oil reserves in the world. But now the country has fallen into enormous debt and civil unrest. Rates of crime and poverty have significantly increased, and they currently have the highest inflation rate in the world, leaving the Venezuelan currency almost worthless in comparison to the US Dollar. Malaria, once almost eradicated, is now on the rise, and many hospitals are failing under the significant pressure of providing health care with little to no funding. This is the biggest economic crisis in Venezuelan history, with a sharper drop in the GDP per capita than experienced by America in the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In a recent poll, 80% of the population stated that they wanted the president, Nicolas Maduro, to be removed from office. It remains that the country has become measurably worse since Maduro was elected president. However, it could also be suggested that whoever it had been, the leader that succeeded the previous president, Hugo Chavez, would have inherited one of the worst socio-economic crises the Americas have ever seen.
Higo Chavez was a charismatic and beloved leader. He championed a more equal and just society premised upon socialist ideals that resonated with the Venezuelan poor. Chavez openly blamed government corruption and the elite for the economic inequality that plighted the country. In 2004, oil prices surged and, as a country who heavily rely on petroleum, the economy boomed. In response, Chavez’s ‘Bolivarian Revolution’ spent billions on social welfare, reducing poverty rates by more than a half. Significant increases to public services, including health and education, were well received by the Venezuelan people. Chavez even slashed prices of food, making sure it was affordable to all. However, Chavez’s new food scheme meant that products were now priced below the production costs, resulting in manufacturers closing down and stopping production throughout the country. Regardless of an attempted coup in 2002, Hugo Chavez continued to win referendums and elections until he died aged 58 after a battle with cancer. His chosen successor, Nicolas Maduro was elected with a narrow margin, and the opposition heavily contested the results. This coincided with a drop in the value of oil, and a failure to reduce public spending meant that this was the prelude to one of the biggest economic crises the world has ever seen. Most poor Venezuelans can no longer afford the food and medicine that was once heavily subsidised. The military now have complete control over food distribution and, allegedly, the they have been using this scheme for financial gain, considered by outside political experts as the real truth. By selling the food on the black market, at a significantly higher cost than what it is worth, they have reportedly made vast amounts of money through this scheme. Thus keeping the military generals and those closest to Maduro happy, at the expense of the Venezuelan public.
In March 2016, a court ruled to strip the opposition led national assembly of their powers. This was met with widespread protests and civil unrest and 10 people died in connection to the demonstrations. A few days later, this ruling was reversed, however, the damage had already been done. Then, earlier this year, Maduro established the National Constituent Assembly, replacing the previous assembly, this group would have the power to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution. He did not hold a referendum regarding the establishment of this, as Chavez had done previously, but he did hold an election so that the public could ‘choose’ assembly members. Regime opponents called for the Venezuelan public to boycott the vote, and many people did not turn out. However, it was reported that Maduro’s party had won the majority of the votes with a 40% turnout. This resulted in many people believing that such results were fraudulent and that Maduro has finally cemented his role as a dictator in the country. Maduros has ultimately consolidated his powers, towards a more authoritarian role. With the military keeping order on the streets, reports of police brutality have began to emerge, including the use of tear gas and rubber bullets. Many countries have distanced themselves from the issue, placing sanctions on Venezuela and openly disputing Maduro’s politics. The US for example, have posed sanctions on a number of key figures in Maduro’s government, with Donald Trump also stating that he would consider military force if necessary. This has been further exacerbated as a result of Maduro’s relationship with Russian President Wladimir Putin. Russia has provided Venezuela with debt relief and arms for a number of years and has offered military support to the country if Trump lives up to his word. In response, Venezuela has agreed to hold Russian warships, particularly worrying considering the proximity of the country to the US. It remains, that inside Venezuela there is currently no opposition to Maduro. People are malnourished and living in poverty and yet they continue to hit the streets in protest. The only way they can think of to change the future of their country