Under the presidency of Hugo Chávez through the 2000s and into the early 2010s, Venezuela’s economy became hyper-dependent on the country’s once-great national oil industry. With the sharp decline in Venezuelan oil also came sharp economic decline under Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro. The Maduro government has worked to further Chávez-era consolidation, as well as crack down on anti-government demonstrations. This crisis has resulted in extreme hyperinflation, food scarcity, and medical shortages, leading to mass emigration to surrounding countries in the region. Almost 90% of the population currently lives in poverty. There is no clear end to this crisis, even with the rise of an opposition government under Juan Guaidó, the former President of the National Assembly and Maduro challenger.
Relations between the Maduro government, the United States, and US allies in Latin America seem to be rapidly worsening since the attempted coup in early May. Guaidó’s spotlight has faded significantly and his alleged involvement in the failed invasion is making him even less popular – both internationally and within Venezuela. Though little trustworthy information has come out, the Venezuelan government is likely struggling under the coronavirus pandemic, especially because of its virtual shutdown on the country’s already-shrinking oil industry.
Population: 32.3 million
Deaths: More than 10,000
Refugees/Displaced peoples: 4 million
Detainees: 340 political prisoners
Current Situation: Relations between the Maduro government, the United States, and US allies in Latin America seem to be rapidly worsening since the attempted coup in early May. Guaidó’s spotlight has faded significantly and his alleged involvement in the failed invasion is making him even less popular – both internationally and within Venezuela. The Venezuelan government is likely struggling under the coronavirus pandemic, especially because of its virtual shutdown on the country’s already-shrinking oil industry.
Led by President Nicolás Maduro, it has been accused of exacerbating the crisis through poor economic management and widespread government corruption. He is supported by the Constituent National Assembly, an elected body charged with drafting Venezuela’s new constitution and made up almost entirely of his supporters. He is also supported by the Great Patriotic Pole, an alliance of several political parties including Maduro’s United Socialist Party, pro-government community groups, and paramilitary organizations.
A catch-all coalition of roughly 15 opposition parties, including Juan Guaidó’s Popular Will, formed after Hugo Chávez’s victory in the 2010 presidential elections.
A coalition of 13 Latin American countries, plus Guyana, Saint Lucia, and Canada that was formed as a response to the succession crisis after the 2018 presidential election in Venezuela. The group seeks to mediate between the Maduro and Guaidó governments and works to end the crisis.
Imposed financial sanctions against Venezuela in 2017, and again in the wake of the 2018 election. They have denounced Maduro and formally recognized Juan Guaidó as rightful President of Venezuela.
Has heavily condemned the Venezuelan government’s treatment of its citizens, human rights abuses, and erosion of democratic institutions.
Led by Juan Guaidó, the President of the Venezuelan National Assembly. After the widely-criticized 2018 presidential elections, Guaidó named himself President of Venezuela as established by the line of succession in the Venezuelan constitution. He is recognized as the legitimate president by the United States, as well as most major countries in Europe and Latin America.
Timeline of the crisis
Hugo Chávez is elected as president and ushers in a new age in Venezuela, defined by costly social welfare programs, decreasing wealth inequality, and reducing poverty – all financed by surges in oil prices, which make up a significant portion of the Venezuelan economy.
Chávez dies after a two-year long cancer battle. He names Nicolás Maduro as his preferred successor before his death.
Maduro wins the presidential election by a 1.5% margin.
Opposition leader Leopoldo López calls on students to protest against scarcity, shortages, and government corruption and mismanagement.
Other opposition leaders call on people to protest on 12 February, National Youth Day.
Small student marches are held across universities and colleges.
First major protests against the government begin in 38 cities, many of them led by opposition leaders and consisting of student marchers. The protests continue into March, turning violent when opposition protestors clash with pro-government groups and government security forces. Several students are arrested.
A Colombian news channel is taken off the air by the Venezuelan government for its “biased” coverage of the protests.
Maduro organizes pro-government rallies and prohibits violent anti-government demonstrations.
A judge accepts a petition from the Attorney General’s office to detain López.
López turns himself in to the Venezuelan National Guard. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch call for his release, particularly in the wake of further violent protests between government supporters and opposition protesters.
Tens of thousands of government and opposition protesters take to the streets again in the capital Caracas and in San Cristóbal.
Venezuela cuts diplomatic ties with Panama, who called for intervention in the country to manage protests.
The Penal Court brings 40 alleged human rights violations regarding the 12 February protests to the government.
Venezuela cuts economic ties with Panama.
Maduro acknowledges that the government has detained 1529 people since the protests began.
Violent and peaceful protests continue throughout April and May with an estimated 28 people were killed in the previous two months.
100 days of protests are marked with further marches.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expresses concern about human rights abuses and violations in Venezuela.
Protests in cities and towns across the country continue for the rest of the year, with protestors ranging from laborers and students to doctors and politicians. The protests themselves focus on government human rights violations, food and goods scarcity, poverty, oil prices, and corruption.
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski calls on opposition protesters to mobilize after increasing food shortages and long lines at supermarkets.
Imprisoned opposition leader Daniel Ceballos and López announce they are beginning a hunger strike and call on opposition protesters to mobilize for a mass protest.
Around 200,000 people collectively protest in cities across the country, demanding the arrest of protesters along with a set date for the next parliamentary elections.
After spending a year and a half imprisoned, López is found guilty in a corrupt trial and is sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Think tank Observatory of Venezuelan Violence finds that 27,875 homicides were committed in 2015, a rate of 90 per 100,000 people.
Congressional elections are held, and MUD gains a majority in the National Assembly, winning 109 of a possible 164 seats.
Unemployment hits 18%.
A poll from pollster group Datanalisis finds that two-thirds of Venezuelans want Maduro to end his presidency this year.
The opposition-led National Assembly introduces legislation to release the 70 opposition leaders arrested in the past two years of protests.
Opposition politicians deliver a petition with 1.8 million signatures asking for Maduro’s removal, pushing for an official referendum on the issue.
Opposition protesters march in Caracas demanding the National Electoral Council (CNE) hold a referendum to recall Maduro.
The CNE suspends the referendum, citing voter fraud as the reason. This sparks more protests.
Foreign journalists are barred from entering Venezuela, as 1.2 million people across the country protest against Maduro’s rule, and demand he leave office.
Vatican-backed discussions between Maduro’s government and the opposition stall after the government refuses to release prisoners and hold recall elections.
Central Bank figures show that inflation rose 800% in 2016 – the highest in Venezuela’s history – while GDP shrunk 18.6%.
Several opposition leaders and politicians are arrested by the government for allegedly attempting a coup.
The Vatican officially leaves peace talks between the two parties.
Small marches continue throughout the country due to fears of repression from the government, who close public transportation and set up police roadblocks and checkpoints in an attempt to minimize numbers.
Venezuela’s Supreme Tribunal of Justice (the highest court in the country and head of the judicial branch) takes over all legislative powers from the opposition-majority National Assembly. This decision is reversed a few days later on the 1st of April.
The opposition calls for a large scale “mega-march” on 19 April; Maduro announces the creation of 2000 security checkpoints and 200,000 additional authorities to stop the march.
Maduro orders the expansion of the Venezuelan National Militia to include 500,000 of his most loyal supporters.
The “Mother of All Protests” begins, with increasing violence, resulting in 520 arrests. News outlets estimate anywhere between hundreds of thousands to 1.2 million protesters participate.
A peaceful national sit-in is held across the country, bringing the day to a complete stop.
Maduro announces plans to replace the National Assembly with a “communal national constitutional assembly” who would draft a new constitution to replace the 1999 Venezuelan Constitution.
A second national sit-in occurs, blocking traffic across the country for twelve hours.
The 20th day of consecutive marches is marked by millions of protesters in Caracas, in the “We Are Millions” march, resulting in 90 injuries after authorities responded with violence.
The opposition announces they will hold an unofficial referendum asking for thoughts on the creation of a constitutional assembly, the government’s actions, and the military.
National Guardsmen stand aside as government supporters and armed groups storm the National Assembly and attack opposition members, injuring 12 people.
López is placed under house arrest to serve out the remainder of his sentence.
The opposition’s referendum is held, and finds 99% of voters do not want to elect a new Constitutional Assembly, want the military to respect the 1999 Constitution, and want new general elections to be held and the establishment of a “Government of National Unity.”
Millions participate in a 24-hour general strike bringing the work day to a standstill, despite threats from Maduro against small business owners.
Elections are held for the Constitutional Assembly, despite widespread international condemnation. The opposition boycotts the election, and the majority of elected members are Maduro supporters and loyalists.
The CEO of Smartmatic, who run Venezuela’s voting machines, says tampering by the National Electoral Council was highly likely during the election, and Maduro’s claim that eight million votes were cast was wrong by at least one million votes.
The Constitutional Assembly is sworn in and promptly dissolves the National Assembly.
Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz, a critic of Maduro, is dismissed from her role by the Constitutional Assembly.
The Constitutional Assembly assumes the powers of the National Assembly.
Regional elections are held and the CNE claim Maduro’s party won 17 of 23 governorships in the country.
The Minister of Interior, Justice, and Peace bans all organised protests until 3 November 2017.
The attorney general announces plans to prosecute protest organizers.
Municipal elections are held, and the government claims victory in 306 municipalities.
Maduro announces three opposition parties would be banned from participating in the 2018 general election due to their boycott of the municipal elections.
Inflation rose over 4000% in 2017, according to independent economists and opposition parties.
Maduro announces a 15% raise in minimum wage due to hyperinflation.
Dominican Republic-backed talks between the government and opposition are suspended.
An annual survey published by three Venezuelan universities finds that 25% of the population is eating two or less meals a day and 90% of the population currently lives in poverty.
Approximately 728 protests and marches took place throughout March.
After being moved up from its original date in late-2018, presidential elections are held and Maduro is elected for a second term after most opposition leaders refuse to participate. The election is condemned by many international institutions and NGOs, including the United States and members of both the Lima Group and the European Union.
Two drones explode near President Maduro during a televised speech. The Venezuelan government accuses Colombia and the US, arguing it was a right-wing plot to kill him.
In an attempt to counteract massive inflation, Venezuela slashes five zeros from its old currency and renames it the Sovereign Bolivar.
Following a NY Times report, Venezuela’s Foreign Ministry denounces US intervention plans to help military conspirators overthrow President Maduro.
Venezuelan dissident Fernando Albán dies in custody by supposedly jumping from a 10th floor window. Albán had been arrested as a suspect of the drone attack on Maduro from months earlier. His death is widely disputed, as some claim that there is evidence to suggest he was dead before falling from the window.
A report from the UN’s Refugee Agency announces that the number of people fleeing Venezuela has now reached 3 million. Venezuelan refugees are hosted in neighbouring countries such as Colombia, Ecuador and Argentina.
The UN announces a $9m aid package to people suffering from hunger and disease in Venezuela. With many notable instances of corruption in the country, critics worry that aid funds could be misappropriated.
Maduro reaffirms his distrust of American involvement in Venezuela by arguing that Washington aims to kill him and invade the country.
With Maduro’s election declared illegitimate, Juan Guaidó, President of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, declares himself interim president under the Venezuelan constitution.
Trump declares support for the ‘new president’ of Venezuela, leading to Maduro officially cut ties with the US.
EU members Spain, Germany, and the UK affirm their support for Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s rightful president, whilst Russia accuses European countries of interfering in Venezuelan affairs.
As Maduro blocks humanitarian aid from entering the country, deadly clashes result in two deaths. Whilst opposition leader Guaidó stresses the importance of aid to cushion the economic crisis, Maduro continues to refer to such as a security threat.
During a rally in Caracas, Guaidó calls for the unity of Venezuelans under Operación Libertad, a country-wide movement to the capital that would result in a single massive march to the Miraflores presidential palace.
The International Organization for Migration and the UNHCR publish data suggesting over 4 million people have fled Venezuela since the beginning of the economic and political crises. The political turmoil shows no signs of being resolved and neighbouring countries are hesitant to take in the mass numbers of Venezuelan refugees.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announces plans to reopen the country’s border with Colombia. Due to the ongoing economic crisis, many Venezuelans illegally cross into Colombia to access food and medical supplies. The move could also be seen by some as an attempt to repair relations between the two countries following Colombia’s backing of opposition leader Juan Guaidó.
In line with the US and Guaidó’s opposition government, countries around the world strongly condemn the torture and murder of Venezuelan Corvette Captain Rafael Acosta Arévalo. He was previously arrested in a roundup of current and former-military officials accused of plotting to assassinate Maduro.
A report by the UN’s Human Rights agency urges action against the grave violation of human rights documented in Venezuela. The report, which details over 5,000 killings, describes the government’s strategy as “neutralising, repressing and criminalising political opponents and people critical of the government.”
Despite previous negotiations failing, Guaidó expresses his readiness to talk with Maduro to quell the political and economic crisis in the country.
The US aims to send $40m in humanitarian aid to support US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó. The money is to be focused on governance training as well as salaries against the economic and political crisis.
Venezuela suffers from another blackout in what is increasingly seen as common in the ongoing crisis. Officials in Maduro’s government have referred to the blackout as an electromagnetic attack, whilst the President himself blames criminality as the cause of the blackout. Others, however, notably Juan Guaidó, argue that the Maduro’s government is to blame amid further accusations of corruption.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro urges Colombia’s military to defy orders and to unite as one sole military force. Colombian President Iván Duque has criticised Maduro as providing a safe haven for Colombian rebel groups. Maduro’s comments typify the failing relationships between neighbouring countries.
Officials from the US Treasury have accused multiple members of Maduro’s government of reaping the benefits of a state-run food subsidy programme originally designed to maintain equal distribution of food. US officials have described this as a vast network of corruption.
In a brief statement, Trump admits to the possibility of blockading Venezuela in the same vein as Cuba. This statement arrives as Maduro and Guaidó commit to talks brokered by Norway. Representatives from Venezuela have reported the threat to the UN Security Council.
In what is described as an act of war by Maduro, the U.S imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan government in a new move to force regime change.
In protest of recent U.S. sanctions, Maduro’s government cancels meetings with American-backed opposition leader Juan Guaidó
UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet has described recent U.S sanctions on Venezuela as “extremely broad,” serving only to exacerbate the suffering among an already vulnerable population.
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro confirms that his government is conducting negotiations with the United States. Many suspect members of the Trump Administration have been communicating with the Maduro government for longer than admitted.
Maduro accuses Colombia of provoking a military attack as he places his army of full alert. Maduro referenced what he deems as a re-militarization of the FARC rebel group in Colombia as constituting a threat to Venezuelan security. Colombia has responded to Maduro with accusations of sheltering FARC guerrillas.
The US invokes the 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance to curb the possibility of Venezuelan aggression against other countries in the Americas. The treaty originally was meant to guarantee mutual hemispheric defense, but has been severely weakened since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Falklands War.
In a statement from the Kremlin, Russia expresses concern over the activation of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, fearing it could provoke military action against Venezuela and its socialist allies. With this, they announce Maduro’s visit to Moscow.
Mexico and Uruguay are advocating for dialogue between the Maduro and Guaidó governments in an attempt to end the political crisis in Venezuela. This follows the recent cancellation of talks between the two previously mediated by Norway
16 of the 18 present signatories to the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance agree to impose sanctions and asset freezes on members of the Maduro government accused of terrorism, human rights violations, and association with organized crime. Uruguay votes against the resolution and Trinidad and Tobago abstains.
The UN Human Rights Council adopts a resolution creating an independent team to investigate accusations of extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and judicial tampering in Venezuela since 2014. The resolution was originally proposed by members of the Lima Group and requests cooperation from the Maduro government.
The US Agency for International Development announces a $98 million aid agreement with Juan Guaidó’s opposition government. The money will be allocated to both independent humanitarian NGOs and the opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Chile announces that it will implement a blockade against Venezuela should President Nicolás Maduro refuse to organize free and fair elections.
US Implements New Sanctions – “The Trump administration announces stronger sanctions against Venezuelan officials along with tax exemption licenses for US companies operating in Venezuela.
Approximately 5,000 people gather in Venezuela’s capital to demand Maduro’s resignation and democratic transition. Despite significantly smaller numbers than hoped by Guaidó, the gathering is still the largest opposition rally since the failed Operación Libertad.
In response to Mexico, Uruguay, and the Caribbean Community’s urging to resume dialogue between the dueling factions in Venezuela, Juan Guaidó insists that protest and civil unrest is the only way forward left. Maduro, in contrast, has expressed willingness to negotiate.
Pollster Meganálisis announces that Guaidó and Maduro are in a virtual tie with only approximately 10% and 9% support out of the 1,580 people polled. These results, though much darker than other recent polls, point to Guaidó’s fading spotlight inside Venezuela.
President Nicolás Maduro starts the year by calling for dialogue with the United States. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó reiterated the need for efforts to oust the Maduro government.
In a move to ensure Chavista support of the National Assembly, Venezuelan security forces block members of opposition parties from entering the building to re-elect Juan Guaidó as their leader. In their absence, Luis Parra, a loyal Maduro supporter, is elected. The move is condemned by both the Lima Group and the Organization of American States, as well as the US and Argentina separately.
In a dramatic scene, Guaidó pushes through armed security forces to begin the 2020 legislative session, promising to do so regularly if need be. As the building’s power is cut and soldiers storm the chambers, opposition legislators relocate to the basement to continue. Luis Parra’s pro-Maduro National Assembly holds a separate session. Outside, security forces and protestors attack local and foreign journalists.
Maduro-loyal security forces and militias once again prevent opposition lawmakers from entering the National Assembly building. Guarded SUVs transporting the legislators are attacked and shot at by people dressed as civilians. In response, Guaidó holds the session in an amphitheater in the suburbs of Caracas.
In an interview with the Washington Post – his first with a foreign media outlet in over a year – President Nicolás Maduro reaffirms the immediate need for dialogue with the United States to end the political crisis in Venezuela. He expands on his perspective on Guaidó’s failed uprising and makes no mention of organizing new presidential elections.
Taking advantage of his trip overseas, Venezuelan security forces raid the office of opposition leader Juan Guaidó as his supporters in the National Assembly back down from challenging said forces.
In a speech at the World Economic Forum, Juan Guaidó calls for increased sanctions against members of the Maduro government as well as increased support for Venezuelan refugees.
As the two countries continue their fight over Venezuela’s alleged harboring of Colombian fugitives, President Maduro says that he is willing to re-establish diplomatic relations with Colombia. Colombian President Iván Duque strongly rejects this proposal.
The Trump administration announces that it will increase sanctions on the Venezuelan state-run oil sector and more aggressively punish individuals and companies that violate those sanctions.
Pro-Maduro militias target a march led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó in the city of Barquisimeto. This is the first time Guaidó himself has been personally targeted by one of these armed groups.
Venezuela’s elections council says that 49,408 of the voting machines stored in its warehouse in the capital – the vast majority – have been destroyed in a fire labelled by President Maduro as a ‘terrorist attack.’ This means that the upcoming parliamentary elections, set to be held later this year, may likely have to use physical ballots, significantly compromising the election’s credibility and debilitating the first step to democratic transition.
Venezuelan security forces end the first major protest since Guaidó’s return by using tear gas canisters against the mostly-elderly population of Chacao, a Caracas neighborhood known for its strong support of the opposition. Guaidó responds by announcing a student march after leading the day’s National Assembly session.
The International Monetary Fund rejects a desperate bid from the Maduro government for a $5 billion loan to fight the coronavirus on the grounds that it is unclear who Venezuela’s legitimate leader is. The bid shows the real desperation of Maduro’s administration, as he has long lambasted the IMF as an imperialist agent of the United States.
The Department of Justice indicts Nicolás Maduro and several of his top officials on charges of narco-terrorism, corruption, and drug trafficking in relation to the Cartel de los Soles, a drug trafficking organization allegedly working within the Venezuelan military. They also set a $15 million reward specifically for information leading to Maduro’s arrest.
The State Department publishes a comprehensive plan on power-sharing and democratic transition between the Maduro and Guaidó governments. The plan calls on officials from both factions to come together to form a short-term interim government that would coordinate new presidential elections in which these officials cannot run. The plan does allow for Guaidó to run in the new elections. Maduro’s foreign ministry strongly rejects this plan.
The Venezuelan military stops an alleged amphibious coup near the capital of Caracas, leaving several dead and eight detained. Jason Goudreau, American citizen and head of the private security firm Silvercorp USA, assumes responsibility, claiming that the invasion was agreed upon by Guaidó’s opposition government. Delcy Rodríguez, Vice President to Maduro, claims to have evidence of involvement by both the American and Colombian governments.
How can you help?
All For Venezuela and Cuatro por Venezuela Foundation are both nonprofit organisations that partner with other local nonprofits and individual donors to provide financial aid and physical donations to Venezuelans in need.
World Vision reaches more than 125,000 Venezuelan refugees in surrounding countries by providing access to food and water, shelter and child-friendly spaces.
Project Hope helps families and children fleeing the crisis in Venezuela by providing humanitarian assistance.
The Venezuelan Society of Palliative Medicine is another nonprofit comprised of various healthcare professionals that work to treat Venezuelans suffering from “chronic, advanced, and progressive diseases.”
The World Food Programme is a humanitarian aid organisation that is currently seeking $US46 million in order to deliver food aid to some 350,000 Venezuelan migrants who have crossed the border into Colombia.