Anti-government protests continue in Caracas, Venezuela this week, as they have almost every day since the end of March when the Supreme Court attempted to take over the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly. Dozens have been killed during the protests against President Nicolas Maduro and his cabinet. Dissatisfaction has been growing all over the country since its recession officially began in 2014 when the price of oil plummeted and inflation reached 63.6% in the twelve months leading to November of that year. In an article published in April of 2015 by Forbes, Barclays economist Alejandro Grisanti estimated (in absentia of any up-to-date official information) that inflation in Venezuela had reached over 100% by that time. President Maduro and his government have been accused of disastrously mismanaging this economic crisis, leading to shortages in everything from staple foods to medicine.
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, and its economy is highly reliant on them with over 95% of its foreign income coming from oil revenues. When the economic crisis first struck, President Maduro was quoted by the BBC as claiming that the falling prices were a product of a war launched by President Barack Obama to destroy the Venezuelan oil cartel and “impose a unipolar world controlled from Washington.” The opposition in Venezuela, however, blames the socialist policies of Maduro and his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, for the country’s decline. A lack of foreign currency has left the government largely unable to import food, equipment or medicine.
The quality of life has taken a significant hit. This month, the Health Ministry released public statistics for the first time since June 2015, which showed that child mortality had jumped by 30% and the number of women dying during childbirth had increased by 65%. Furthermore, the nation has seen a distinct rise in incidences of illnesses, such as Malaria, and surveys have shown that roughly three-quarters of the population report eating only two meals a day or less. In an article by the BBC, one doctor in Caracas hospital notes how the number of patients waiting to be operated on has risen from an average of 200 five years ago to 5,500 at present. The same doctor observes that, of the hospital’s nine operating rooms, only four were functional at the time the article was released (October of last year).
Unfortunately, according to Forbes, “Maduro’s government has focused on addressing the symptoms of the crisis rather than addressing the root causes.” In 2015, for instance, he announced plans to introduce 20,000 finger scanners in the country’s main supermarkets to reduce the impact of hoarding and panic-buying. However, with protests escalating in violence this week to the point where it is reported, police have fired tear gas at opposition supporters and a bus was set on fire, it is clear that the pressure on Maduro and his government to do more is intensifying by the hour. Inflation is expected to reach 700% this year and civilians are in real danger, not only from the economic impacts of the recession, but also from the social ones. Maduro’s presidential term ends in 2019, but calls for an early election are now deafening.