Starvation, hyperinflation, disease and crime are just some of the problems Venezuelans face in the wake of the country’s worst crisis in its 208 year history. Likened to the economic devastation of war-torn Bosnia, the IMF estimates that the country will reach 44.3% unemployment by the end of 2019. With one of the world’s biggest natural oil reserves, the fact that Venezuela is facing a dire economic crisis owes itself to the repressive, authoritarian way in which the Maduro government has behaved. Upon former President Hugo Chavez’s death in 2013, Nicolas Maduro assumed office from the Vice Presidency. However, in 2015 the National Assembly was won by the opposition, marking the beginning of an ongoing move against Maduro which is still in motion some four years later. Events in Venezuela today are a continuation of this move against the oppression of the Maduro government.
In Venezuela, the President of the National Assembly serves under the main Presidency and is second in the line of succession behind the Vice President. In what was a controversial step, the leader of the main opposition party and President of the National Assembly Juan Guaido contested the result of the May 2018 election. Since January 2019, the Presidency has been the subject of scrutiny and this lack of certainty over who holds office has only worsened the present humanitarian situation. As of January, the situation has not improved with extended electricity shortages, lack of clean water, rampant inflation and a lack of medical and health services. The hopes of political restoration were taken aback in February when Rafael Acosta Arevalo – one of Guaido’s military links – died after having been detained and tortured for months on end.
The crisis in Venezuela has also permeated the country’s border with Colombia. As one of the region’s most successful economies and politically stable countries, there is a new refugee crisis in Colombia – the result of having taken on approximately four million refugees. The Maduro government has also extended an offer of help to one of Colombia’s oldest guerrilla movements in the National Liberation Army (ELN) by helping them enforce the eastern border of Colombia while working in conjunction with the Venezuelan Armed Forces. Not only does this present a challenge for Colombia, it also reveals the extent to which Maduro is willing to hold onto power. In response, the U.S. is moving to bolster Colombia’s defence capabilities and ensure that Colombian sovereignty is maintained in the event that the situation in Venezuela spills over into neighbouring countries. A good deal of the international community has condemned the actions of the Maduro regime and has continued to do so at the UN and through regional networks based in Latin America.
Maduro’s cling to power really stems from the legacy of Hugo Chavez, whom Maduro served with as Vice President. While unpopular overseas and often the subject of scrutiny elsewhere, Chavez’s legacy as a populist within Venezuela itself goes a long way in explaining his appeal and the legacy that Maduro wishes to cling to. After attempting to take control in 1992, Chavez rose to prominence in 1998 on the promise of dealing with government incompetence and corruption. Termed “Chavismo”, Chavez sought to garner support in the poorest sectors of Venezuelan society but did so by limiting democratic accountability and installing a state-run media.
As recently as July 13, Guaido’s bodyguards were arrested in Barbados where peace talks between Maduro and Opposition supporters are taking place which is a major setback for the process of peace in Venezuela. If the situation in Venezuela is to improve, either Maduro must step down from power or Guaido must continue to pressure Maduro’s regime until it can no longer stand. However, in the short term the international community must continue to stand by the values of humanitarian decency and respect for individual rights – the very values the current regime opposes.