“The nation of 31 million is descending into chaos — a situation so desperate that HIV and cancer patients are going without treatment and parents are surrendering their hungry children to orphanages. But the government is doubling down on efforts to portray an alternative reality.”

The Venezuelan crisis has become known as one of the worst humanitarian conflicts in the world. With a corrupt ruler, a question of political legitimacy, and a crumbling economy, Venezuela is struggling to stabilize itself in a time where its actions are being questioned around the world. There is no electrical power in the country, stores have rarely any food give to civilians, and sanitation issues are developing because there is no source of clean water.

Other nations, like the U.S., have attempted to help by sending aid to those who are suffering under Maduro’s regime. However, President Maduro has not allowed this aid to arrive into the country due to his distrust of the U.S and President Trump’s support of Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Because of this, the aid has been sitting on the border of Colombia and Venezuela as the U.S. waits for the approval of the aid to be allowed in to the country.

The Venezuelan regime must be dealt with immediately through the act of compromise. It will be impossible to have a smooth transition with the immediate removal of the current President, so there must be a formation of an impartial committee from a third party–such as the UN–to lead the organization of a new election to ensure there isn’t fraud. In addition, it’s imperative that the civilian population has access to humanitarian aid and must excluded from the crossfire between the Venezuelan government and the opposition party during the negotiations.

Economic Crisis

Venezuela used to be the richest country in Latin America with access to the largest oil reserves in the world. They used to have a strong democratic government praised by other nations around the world, but the policies placed during the transition into a socialist government since 1999 set the country up for failure. Venezuela now has the highest inflation rate in the world at 80,000%, making it nearly impossible for civilians to have access to basic needs necessary to survive. President Chavéz’s use of price controls forced Venezuelan businesses to stop making daily goods because it was no longer profitable to produce these goods. There were also foreign currency controls put into place, which would only allow those who had a valid reason to buy dollars be allowed to exchange their bolivars for dollars.

However, only Maduro’s close allies have access to this rate. However, it wasn’t just the socialist policies that led to the collapse of the economy. The poor management of the oil reserves contributed to the growing economic crisis. In the process, they made oil prices very low, to the point of deficit.  Oil makes up 98% of export earnings, which means the entire country feels the impact when the oil market is down.

Fig. 1: Venezuela’s economic decline
Source: BBC

Humanitarian Impact

Poverty in Venezuela has increased from 48.4% in 2014 to 91% in 2017. Six out of 10 Venezuelans have involuntarily lost 19 pounds in one year, and 1.3 million people suffer from malnutrition. The economic crisis is causing those in Venezuela to not have access to basic resources. Medicine necessary to survive is scarce and hospitals’ infrastructure is falling apart. Malaria, which was originally believed to be eradicated, is now involved with over 500,000 cases. Other diseases such as zika, polio, and measles are affecting the indigenous population more.

Around 1.6-2.0 million Venezuelans are estimated to flee the country to escape poverty. An average of 5,000 people everyday flee to Colombia. Colombia is the one to be most burdened by the large flows of people as they are located next to each other. Brazil, Guyana, and nearby Caribbean islands could also see a rise if the situation does not get better. With the large sums of people relocating to these different countries, it could be too large of an influx, which destabilizes the region. Clinics, schools, and local economies can all be affected by the refugee crisis.

Lastly, Venezuela has an incredibly high crime rate. 73 Venezuelans die a violent death everyday, and the rate of homicide is 89 per 100,000 habitants. More people are joining gangs to try and provide for their family since there is not enough food to feed them. Robberies are becoming more prominent as people have to steal from others to to ensure the survival of their own. Crime is only getting worse in this region due to the lack of government and economic stability.

Question of Political Legitimacy

When Maduro was elected in 2013, the country began to fall apart. Venezuela now has the highest inflation rate in the world at 80,000%, making it nearly impossible for civilians to have access to basic needs necessary to survive. Roughly 80% of citizens want Maduro removed from power. However, Maduro has continued to increase his power in government by limiting the other branches from reaching his full authoritarian rule.

In 2015, an opposition group called the Democratic Unity Roundtable gained control of the National Assembly. As Maduro perceived this to be a threat to his command, he quickly removed those in the Supreme Court and filled those with judges who would be loyal to him. In March 2017, the court ruled to take away the powers of the National Assembly, which led to protests around the country. Although the decision was reversed only a few days later, the public had already reacted, and it was too late to go back to how the country once was. In July, Maduro held a vote to essentially to create another National Assembly and fill it with a group called the National Constituent Assembly, which would have the power to rewrite the constitution and leave no rival to Maduro’s rule. Despite Maduro successfully creating this assembly, there was no way for citizens to vote against it. It only allowed them to vote for members to fill in this new body, not oppose it.

In January 2019, Maduro was sworn into another six year term based on an election that was full of dishonest results. The public reacted by boycotting his presidency and argued that voter fraud had allowed him to win another term. The National Assembly did not recognize the results of this election, and Juan Guaidó declared himself as the interim president of the country since he was the head of the National Assembly body. Many countries surrounding Venezuela as well as the United States and other European countries have supported Guaidó. However, the military still supports Maduro, making it impossible for Guaidó to have full control of the country.

Fig. 2: Juan Guaidó declaring himself as leader
Source: Venezuelanalysis

Changing the Military’s Side

As of now, the military is still benefiting from the rule of Maduro because it controls the mining and oil industries, a television network, a bank, and overall, holds a great amount of influence in the government. However, reports have stated that the middle and lower levels are not properly equipped and have terrible communication. Last year, 4,000 lower-ranking officers left their post.

A realist approach to this problem is by having the military switch to the side of the opposition. The first step of doing this is by persuading some of the higher-ranked military leaders to join the opposition. This could be done by offering even higher positions in the new government, provide more weapons as the lower-ranks struggled to be well-equipped, or be part of the creation of a new, fair government. However, it is necessary to be wary of their intentions to ensure they don’t try to take usurp the power of the new government.

In a worst case scenario, because many countries have recognized Guaidó as the legitimate president, Guaidó can request NATO troops to be sent to Venezuela to overpower the military supporting Maduro. This could lead the Venezuelan troops to backing down and switching sides to support Guaidó. Still, there is a chance that more violence can occur that can negatively impact the already devastated civilian population.

New Government, New Society

First, Venezuela must stabilize as a whole before there are elections held to vote a new president in. Humanitarian aid needs to be imported to help the people suffering in Venezuela. The ones who are affected by this crisis are the people who do not have support from the government to provide them with necessities such as food, clean water, electricity, and medical support.  NGOs should work with the UN and the interim government to ensure that this aid is reaching the civilians who desperately need it. Specifically, medicine that is needed to deal with the public health crisis should be prioritized among countries sending aid. In addition, there must be a strong focus on rebuilding Venezuela as a whole. Fixing the broken infrastructure, creating new schools, renovating hospitals are vital to lowering the crime rate and keeping Venezuelan civilians from leaving Venezuela .

Because the current electoral committee is filled with Maduro supporters, an impartial task force is necessary to oversee a fair election after Guaidó’s term. However, an international body should supervise this committee to ensure that it will not try to rig the elections like Maduro previously has. Once there is a new body democratically elected in place, there have to be policies created to return life to Venezuela as it once formally was. This includes economic policies to deal with the mining and oil industry, reversal of the unfair exchange rate of bolivars to dollars, promotion of private businesses to stimulate the economy, creation of new job industries not reliant on oil, and other long term impacts necessary to reduce the inflation rate and bring money back to the civilians.

Preventative measures must be taken to ensure that a dictator like Maduro won’t gain power again in the future. By depoliticizing the court, restoring the checks and balances system, and creating new policies to prevent corruption in the government, the country can go back to its fundamental democracy that once made it the most successful country in Latin America.

Conclusion

The struggle over political legitimacy will have many rippling effects if it is not resolved at some point in the near future. It’s causing great instability in the region, which could lead to more counterinsurgency groups rising and putting more lives in danger. The humanitarian crisis will only continue to worsen without the resources necessary for these civilians to live, and it could lead to a refugee and oil crisis. Lastly, the growth of authoritarian regimes in Latin America could spread if other countries see how they can remain in power. As chaos continues to increase, there needs to be something done to prevent the country from falling apart before it’s too late.

Featured Image Source: CNN

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