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Nicolás Maduro won his second term as President of Venezuela earlier this week, despite low voter turnout due to a boycott of what many believed to be a rigged election and disillusionment with Maduro’s government from citizens living through the worst socio-economic crisis in the country’s history.
Maduro won 68% of the poll (5.8 million votes), in an election in which only 46% of eligible citizens reportedly voted. This low voting rate, especially compared to the 2013 one, was partly due to opposition leaders requesting a boycott of an election they believed to be rigged in Maduro’s favour. His administration changed previous election practices originally put in place to prevent people from voting more than once, also moving up the date of the poll by seven months, giving opponents little time to campaign. Additionally, opposition leaders and politicians were barred from running, many were arrested and anti-government protests were often brutally repressed.
Many Venezuelans have also become disenchanted with a nation that has continuously shown little regard for its citizens who are suffering under the consequences of a corrupt administration. Many who did vote for Maduro, or abstained from voting, expressed fear of retribution if they openly opposed him.
Much of this apprehension and dissatisfaction with the authority is caused by the poor social, economic, health and living conditions in Venezuela. The country’s large and profitable oil industry has slowed production in the wake of a severe economic disaster that could push hyperinflation in the nation up 13 000% this year, according to the International Monetary Fund. This has resulted in a scarcity of basic resources and services, including severe food shortages that have forced many to rely on government food packages and coupons that only barely feed families. Maduro has also been accused by opponents and activists of using food as a bargaining tool to force people to vote for him.
These food shortages have in turn caused poor health, putting severe stress on a healthcare system that was already overtaxed and is now unable to cope with the influx of malnourished and sick Venezuelans. While the leadership does not publish health data or statistics, and doctors are fearful of speaking out themselves, a New York Times investigation of 21 hospitals across Venezuela found a steep increase in child mortality rates and almost 3000 cases of child malnutrition in 2017, resulting in an estimated 400 child deaths. Furthermore, all of these effects of the economic crisis have led to rampant crime around the country, brutal arrests and crackdowns by police and soldiers on civilians.
Many countries have criticized Maduro’s policies and handling of the crisis in Venezuela, including Brazil and Colombia, who are dealing with a mass exodus of Venezuelan refugees crossing their borders, estimating 1.5 million who have left their nation in the past three years, reaching an emigration rate of around 5000 people per day earlier this year.
The United States has also denounced the vote and its results, and added to the sanctions already in place against Venezuela. A number of other Latin American countries have also refused to recognize the results and have been limiting their relations with the aforementioned government in recent months.
Maduro has blamed the crisis on other nations’ sanctions and unwillingness to support him. However, economists are in agreement that the disaster stems from poor management and corruption, leading to the suffering of masses of Venezuelans to whom the government has turned a blind eye. Additional sanctions must be placed on Maduro’s regime and more states need to declare the election results as illegitimate. The Venezuelan leadership must also allow humanitarian aid to flow freely through the country, without any caveats on the administration of aid, and increase resources and supplies to hospitals in order to begin addressing some of the major consequences the crisis has wrought on Venezuelans.