Venezuela is currently experiencing a long-term humanitarian crisis. The once oil-rich country has been plagued with hyperinflation. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the troubles in Venezuela began in 1998 when Hugo Chavez rose to the presidency. Venezuela’s vast oil wealth allowed Chavez to adopt costly, socialist policies. While Chavez was successful in expanding social services and cut poverty by 20 percent, he also took measures that caused a long, steady decline in the country’s oil production. Chavez’s heavy spending and the crippling of the oil industry led the government debt to double by the end of his presidency in 2013. When his successor, Nicolas Maduro, took office in 2013, the country was in an economic spiral.
As reported by PBS, in the years that followed, this economic downturn led to high levels of violence, food shortages, scarcity of basic goods, and cuts in public spending that would make it hard for poor Venezuelans to access food and medicine. In 2015, Maduro stacked the country’s Supreme Court with justices loyal to him, which would lead to a ban preventing any opposition leaders from participating in the 2017 elections. PBS claims that the protests that resulted from these unfair elections lasted for months and left 66 individuals dead. In 2018, presidential elections were held, and despite claims of fraud, Maduro was re-elected. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the U.S. and other powers condemned the elections as unfair and undemocratic. These powers refuse to acknowledge the Maduro government as legitimate. The inauguration of Maduro in January of 2019 led to further protests by Venezuelan citizens. As reported by PBS¸ Juan Guaido claimed the presidency by citing emergency powers granted in the constitution. The U.S. and other powers backed Guiado, which caused Maduro to sever diplomatic ties and make moves to block aid from entering the country.
The international response to the crisis has been largely ineffective. Several countries stepped up to help alleviate the economic hardship and scarce resources by sending in aid. However, as mentioned previously, Maduro has blocked all aid from countries that do not support him. PBS states that U.S. aid is kept in a guarded warehouse in Colombia, and the Brazilian border has been closed to block all aid from Brazil and other South American countries. PBS followed that statement by reporting that after this aid was blocked, Guiado declared he would forcibly transport this aid. This unfortunately led to further military skirmishes between Guiado’s and Maduro’s forces. Additionally, forcing aid into the country is creating an even larger pushback by the Maduro regime against it.
Other countries have focused their response to the humanitarian crisis on handling the migrants coming out of Venezuela. According to a report by the Council on Foreign Relations, over 3.3 million people have fled the country due to poverty, violence, and persecution. This is one of the largest and fastest migrations in Latin American history, and the surrounding countries are straining to handle it. Around 80 percent of migrants have stayed in Latin America, while the rest have headed north to North America or across the Atlantic to Southern Europe. These countries are doing their part to provide those fleeing Venezuela with a better life. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that 460,000 migrants have claimed asylum, and 1.8 million have gained other forms of residency. The actions of the countries that are trying to take in these migrants are beneficial in the short-term, but they do nothing to help those trapped in Venezuela and do not provide a solution to the overarching conflict.
Several countries have attempted diplomatic solutions to the problem in Venezuela. As of the present, The Atlantic claims that the Trump administration is not prepared to send troops to Venezuela and will use sanctions like an oil embargo to pressure Maduro into stepping down. Global Risk Insights reports that officials from the U.S. and Russia met in Sochi in May 2019. The United States and Russia support opposite sides of the conflict. The U.S. alleges that Russia is responsible for propping up the Maduro regime and played an integral role in preventing Maduro from fleeing Venezuela. Russia then compared Venezuela to U.S. interventions in Iraq and Libya. Unfortunately, as long as these two sides are unable to reach an agreement, they will continue supporting opposing leaders and allow the conflict to remain. CNBC reports that Norway has stepped up to try to mediate talks between the two political rivals. The first talks failed, but now both parties have agreed to try again. Guiado has stressed that these talks must be aimed at a solution and not a guise to buy the Maduro government more time. If these talks are done with a goal of a solution, they have the potential to end the crisis and bring about needed healing.
Possible solutions to this crisis need to account for the complexity of the problem. A good solution to the problem is made up of both short-term and long-term objectives. The first component is short-term problem management. This includes finding a way to handle the millions of migrants that have fled the country, as well as finding a way to get aid to Venezuelan citizens. The countries around Venezuela need to build up facilities and programs to receive and house these migrants. The influx of people into these countries will strain resources, so the international community and U.N. should work to provide these countries with funding and supplies. Additionally, aid and goods are desperately needed within Venezuela. Even if total diplomatic relations cannot be accomplished, the U.S. and other countries need to work out an agreement with the Maduro government to allow resources to enter the country non-violently.
The long-term solution to the Venezuela crisis is rooted in diplomacy. First, the United States and Russia must reach an agreement. As long as those two countries are supporting opposite governments, the conflict will be encouraged. If the U.S. and Russia cannot come to an agreement on which side to support, they need to agree to remove themselves from the situation. Once outside influence is removed, talks within Venezuela will be more effective. As mentioned previously, talks have very recently begun between the two sides in Norway. While no agreement has been reached at the present, there are some signs that a compromise is possible. The Washington Post claims that the opposition is considering letting Maduro stay in power until new elections are held rather than forcing him out of office. Some are even considering letting him run for re-election under the assumption that his approval is so low he cannot win. This compromise is one that may break the stalemate. Not forcing Maduro to immediately step down is likely to make him more receptive to the agreement. A good solution would be to get Maduro to agree to a new election and then put measures in place to ensure they are not fraudulent. It may be a good idea to bring in an outside country to monitor the new election. Once a new, legitimate government is in place, Venezuela can begin healing and recovering economically.
Venezuela’s crisis is a very pressing issue on a global scale. Global Risk Insights claims the U.N. estimates that as many as 5.3 million people may leave Venezuela by the end of 2019. This is not only a tragic loss of home for millions of people, but an enormous strain on surrounding countries. World oil markets are also in jeopardy. Venezuela is the world’s largest oil reserves, but their production has fallen from 1.2 million barrels to 476,000 barrels from January 2019 to April 2019. Between the tragedies of poverty, hunger, and violence facing Venezuelan citizens, and the economic impact the world faces, it is imperative that the world takes steps to foster a compromise and begin helping the broken country.