Opinions, Column

The Ongoing Crisis in Venezuela

With its political system and economy near collapse, Venezuela is close to becoming a failed state. Since the death of the pseudo-authoritarian Hugo Chavez, who served as President of Venezuela for 14 years, the country has been facing a serious socioeconomic crisis under President Nicolas Maduro. Inflation is rampant, violence is unchecked, and strict price controls and falling oil prices have created a shortage of basic goods like food and medicine. Approximately 75 percent of Venezuelans were living below the poverty line in 2016. Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, has become the most violent city in the world, with the highest homicide rate of any city excluding those in war zones. With an inflation rate of over 700 percent, the Venezuelan economy is a disaster. Maduro has become a semi-authoritarian ruler, consolidating power over all three branches of government. But does anybody care enough about Venezuela to actually do something?

An important factor behind Venezuela’s failing economy is the dramatic drop in oil prices in the last year. This is partly because of the United States’ increased reliance on its own resources through fracking and growing global investment in alternative energy sources.The Venezuelan people are feeling the full brunt of this drop due to the country’s heavy dependence on revenue from its oil industry, which discouraged it from developing other sectors of its economy. In 2016, oil accounted for over 90 percent of the country’s exports, and approximately one-fourth of its gross domestic product. Furthermore, serious economic mismanagement and government blunderings were significantly hurting the Venezuelan economy even before oil prices fell.

Only a decade ago, Venezuela was rich and powerful enough to aspire to counterbalance U.S. influence in the region. Now, Venezuela owes almost $140 billion in foreign debt, and is in danger of defaulting. Last month, the United Nations rescinded Venezuela’s right to vote in the General Assembly because of the tens of millions of dollars it owes in dues. Many Venezuelans are going hungry in a food shortage, and others are dying of treatable diseases due to a lack of medicine.

In late 2015, amid the economic crisis that caused Maduro’s popularity to plummet, the Venezuelan opposition won a majority in the National Assembly. On March 29, 2017, the Supreme Court of Venezuela, filled with Maduro supporters, took over legislative power by dissolving the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Luis Almagro, the head of the 35-member Organization of American States, accused Maduro’s “regime” of carrying out a “coup” which dealt the final blows to Venezuela’s fragile democracy.

There is some concern that instability in Venezuela will spread to neighboring countries. In February of this year, after meeting with the presidents of three South American countries regarding the crisis in Venezuela, President Donald Trump called on Maduro to release political prisoners.

Still, it does not seem like any country cares enough about Venezuela to effectively do something about the crisis. “Venezuela is arguably the only real failed state in Latin America, but its geopolitical irrelevance have made its crisis a moot point,” said Kenneth Rapoza on Forbes.com. If anyone should act, it’s the Organization of American States, but at a meeting last week, they considered kicking Venezuela out of the organization. The U.S. Department of State’s policy in the Western Hemisphere is to promote democracy, safety, and socioeconomic development, all things which are currently under threat in Venezuela. Realistically, however, Venezuela’s political and economic instability is not currently a serious national security threat to the U.S., and interfering in Venezuelan politics may cause more harm than good.

The international community should persuade Maduro’s government to accept humanitarian aid for the Venezuelan people, and pressure it to hold new elections and release political prisoners. Serious macroeconomic reforms need to be put in place before the inflationary Venezuelan currency can be stabilized. Still, if the international community has not yet effectively committed to solving more serious crises in places like Syria and Sudan, it is unlikely that there will be a real effort to remedy the situation in Venezuela. Widespread protests, however, provide hope that Venezuelans are willing to stand up to fix their own country. Sometimes reform is most effective when it comes from within, and perhaps the Venezuelan opposition will succeed in redirecting the country’s messy politics and economy.

Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Editor

April 2, 2017