The international community stood valiantly with Venezuela after socialist President Nicolás Maduro took office in 2015 and demanded the restoration of democratic rule. In recent years, however, the South American country has been crippled with soaring hyperinflation, electricity black-outs, and food shortages. Over 4.5 million Venezuelans have sought to live abroad and claim refugee and migrant status, which the UNHCR calls the largest exodus in the area’s recent history. In a shocking study, independent university researchers identified the country as the poorest country in the Americas. Currently, over 96 per cent of its population is believed to be poverty-stricken.
These implications are deemed the products of Maduro’s first term as President in 2013. Many Venezueleans blame Maduro’s socialist regime for the country’s economic strife. The country has since been caught in a downward spiral, its problems further compounded after Maduro was controversially reelected to a second term in 2018. Most Venezuelans believe the election contained innumerable irregularities, corruption, and voter intimidation. Such belief provoked mass street protests demanding Maduro to resign from his position.
In 2018, Venezuela witnessed a brief glimmer of hope after its opposition-controlled National Assembly refused to recognize Maduro’s reelection as legitimate. This ensured the leader of the body, Juan Guaidó, to step in as acting president. The move was justified by articles in Venezuela’s constitution that cited this as permissible. To date, over fifty countries, including the U.S., acknowledge Guaidó as president. However, many experts render Guaidó’s position as powerless. In practical terms, Guadó’s role is defined as no more than a figurehead for real change, despite receiving overwhelming international support. The military has remained largely loyal to Maduro, and the National Assembly holds no substantial power to intervene in politics.
Many economists view Venezuela’s downfall as inevitable due to the country’s overreliance on oil revenues. However, many believe the massive social spending of the Venezuelan government, U.S. sanctions, economic mismanagement, along with declining oil prices have collectively expedited and intensified the crisis. Overall, Venezuela’s extreme downfall has taken the world by surprise. Just under eight years ago, the country was home to the world’s largest oil reserves, ruled by a stable democracy, and distinguished as one of South America’s largest growing economies. The same nation that once hosted a large middle class is now paralyzed by a contracting economy, widespread poverty, and rampant food and resource shortages.
The crisis in Venezuela continues to grow, and the international community has become increasingly desensitized. Currently, most Venezuelans struggle to afford food and hospitals lack basic resources. The country’s inflation rate currently sits over 27,364 percent, and the average household is unable to afford basic foods such as flour, bread, or tea. The minimum wage in Venezuela has dropped to $8.22 CAD in an effort to control hyperinflation. According to a recent survey, over 65 percent of Venezuelans lost an average of 25 pounds last year. The country is also facing a massive 85 per cent shortage of medicine, forcing Venezuelans to seek expired and cheaper medicine sold on the black market. As of July 28th, Venezuela reported over 15,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19. However, experts deem this research as unreliable largely due to limited testing, shortage of medical supplies, and lack of transparency. In Venezuela, medical professionals and journalists are often subject to persecution when reporting on problems in the nation.
The prolonged conflict has allowed the international community to experience a phenomena described as compassion exhaustion. Venezuela’s plight continues to tell the same story – hyperinflation, extreme poverty, and economic decline. It is no surprise that Venezuela continues to fade from major headlines. As any news of Venezuela remains stagnant, and the devastation in the country continues to grow. To curb the ongoing crisis, Human Rights Watch advocated for securing an expansive humanitarian response. In addition to this humanitarian assistance, government assistance of neighbouring countries, and increased socio-economic inclusion must also be implemented. Therefore, it is crucial this crisis is not forgotten, as the country’s sole hope lies in international intervention.