You might have heard of Venezuela whenever there is a talk about oil and the fluctuation in its prices or, if you’re not familiar with that, you would’ve surely come across various posts on social media talking about how the country’s currency value is lesser than that of the widely popular World of Warcraft game’s currency.
Venezuela, a country in South America, has the largest oil reserves in the world and yet, suffers from nearly 14000% inflation and a projected -15% GDP growth. It is categorically representative of what happens when democratically elected officials rig the economy to their benefit. Hugo Chávez, who served the country as their president up until his death in 2013, did it to hold onto power and Nicolás Maduro, the current president does it to ensure support from the military and his powerful allies.
Chávez who was a charismatic leader that got to his position fighting the rich and the corrupt and promising to bring changes to the country and to uplift the downtrodden and poor. He rigged the economy to be dependent on the rising oil prices which, during his tenure didn’t seem to fall anytime soon and used the profits to better the education system, in subsidizing food and in revamping a socialist health care system. But, in 2014 when the oil prices took a sharp dip, the system he and the entire nation had placed their faith in, couldn’t handle the pressure and crumbled.
Was the overdependence on oil the only issue? Many of the policies introduced by Chávez also backfired. In order to make basic goods more affordable to the poor, his administration introduced price controls – capping the money people pay for such staples as flour, cooking oil and toiletries thus providing little to no incentive to companies to produce these items for the lack of profit and the exchange rate worsened things further. After this, the Chávez government took charge of the Exchange process and only people with legitimate reasons to exchange Bolivars for Dollars were allowed to do so which not only resulted in discontentment but also lead to the flourishing of the Black Market and rise in Inflation. Now here, we see that Chávez deliberately didn’t scale back the dependence of the country on oil reserves and in attempt to keep his people happy and disillusioned of an impending doom, and continued to shower his people with the fruits of a heavily oil dependent and mismanaged system despite the evident growth in the country’s deficit.
After His death, Nicolás Maduro, who was Chávez’s handpicked successor, took office and began showing early signs of a possible dictatorship. He would use state machinery to censor his critics, spread propaganda and even go on to jail members of his political opposition and try to amend the constitution to ensure he holds onto power. He continued Chávez’s system, only this time, it didn’t help the poor at all. He set the currency exchange rates for his allies and the military at 10 Bolivar:1 US Dollar when the actual exchange rate is 79900.00:1. Yes, one US Dollar is equal to almost 80 Thousand Venezuelan Bolivar!
The Venezuelan Plight
Seeing these prices, the Venezuelan people had no other option but to ditch their national currency and use US Dollar instead. To their further misfortune, food supplies are controlled by the military and are sold at extremely high prices causing the poverty rate to rise up to 82%. Reading all of this, you might question as to why there hasn’t been any sort of interference from the UN. Well, they were offered both food and medical aid but the Maduro Government declined it leading to more preventable deaths. Maduro on many occasions deflects the blame towards Washington, blaming the sanctions for the condition of his people and on this occasion stepped it up a notch, saying “Venezuela isn’t a country of Beggars”. However, recently he did have to ask the UN to boost the medical supplies of which only 5% were available. Critics say that the Government will not accept any aid because accepting the aid would project the image that the state has failed and that Maduro’s policies aren’t good enough to sustain the people, which no dictator would want. Further, it has also been alleged that it is so that people don’t have the energy to protest, which seemingly is extreme but, given the previous actions of the government to hold on to power, seems plausible.
Here is a brief about what has been taking place in the crisis stricken Venezuela:
- The political and humanitarian crisis hitting Venezuela has accelerated the number of Venezuelans fleeing the country, including those migrating to Ecuador. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), between 2016 and September 2017, approximately 236,000 Venezuelans entered Ecuador. About three-quarters continued their journey south, leaving a net migration of some 62,000 people into the country. The UNHCR has also reportedthat Ecuador has become both a destination and transit country for Venezuelans on their way to Peru and Chile. Ecuador’s Ministry of Interior reports that in 2016, 102,619 Venezuelan nationals entered the country and 79,008 left.
- As of September 2017, over 1,500 Venezuelans had applied for asylum in Ecuador, with monthly claims peaking at 222 in August 2017, the UNHCR
- On 8th November, 2017, Venezuela’s Constituent Assembly adopteda Law Against Hatred and in favour of Peaceful Living and Tolerance. The law forbids political parties that “promote fascism, hatred, and intolerance,” as well as “messages of intolerance and hatred” published through media outlets or social media. This goes a long way in establishing supremacy of the state and hammering down on any form of dissent, even if it is online.
- The Opposition’s attempt to change laws and bring amendments were hampered when salaries of Congressmen was withheld by Maduro whereas members of his National Assembly (Loyalists) were paid their salaries on time. The Congressmen also complained of there being no state resources for even small things such as printer ink.
- Arrest of Opposition leaders and people that lead protests against the government are a common occurrence. The government uses the National Guard to further its prerogative and has on many occasions justified it by calling the acts of the opposition as “Treason”
- The Resolution by Organization of American States that highlighted and called for the need of “Restoration of Democratic order in Venezuela” was immediately rejected by the Government.
- Prices in Venezuela rose 4,068 per cent in the 12 months to the end of January, according to estimates by the country’s opposition-led National Assembly, broadly in line with independent economists’ figures. The government stopped releasing statistics after 2015 when poverty hit 33%.
- Venezuelans at an average have lost 11Kgs of weight due to food shortages. People have begun calling this the ‘Maduro Diet’.
- Venezuelan NGO Observatory of Violence (OVV) listed Venezuela as the second most murderous nation after El Salvador. The OVV has tracked violence through police sources and media reporting. In its annual report, OVV stated that Venezuela had over 26,616 homicides in 2017, a rate of 89 per 100,000 inhabitants. This number is down from OVV’s reported tally of 28,479 homicides in 2016.
- 2017 was also a deadly one for law enforcement. Unofficial statistics indicate that 236 police officers and law enforcement personnel were killed countrywide, many of whom were victims of targeted assassination.
- At least one million people have entered Colombia from Venezuela since President Maduro’s government and for the first time, they will have to use their passports, breaking the visa free entry that has stood for years between the two countries. The Colombian government has further given 90 days’ time to Venezuelans already inside the country to get themselves registered and have asked the UNHCR for assistance to which their request was denied due to the relative non severity deemed by the UNHCR.
- The government recently released around 79 activists and politicians from its custody but all those freed have all been banned from using social media or travelling abroad. The opposition says about 300 people remain in jail on charges that they say are “designed to stifle dissent.
These are just a few of the many terrible things that have been taking place in Venezuela. The Mainstream media blamed it on the failure of the Socialist model thereby, turning a complete blind eye to the mismanagement and corrupt officials making temporary policies and passing them off as revolutionary ones to further their own narrative. The Maduro Government won a ‘Sham’ Election and regained power in May, 2018 for a new Six-year term. Venezuela’s election board put turnout at just 46.1%, way down from the 80% registered at the last presidential vote in 2013, due to a boycott by Venezuela’s mainstream opposition.
Henri Falcón, the Opposition candidate, claimed widespread vote buying and electoral irregularities meant the election was “illegitimate”. “We do not recognize this electoral process as valid,” he told reporters. “As far as we are concerned there has been no election. There must be new elections in Venezuela.” Despite widespread censure around the legitimacy of the elections, the Government went on with their business as usual.
5 years into the Economic crisis, we can see the formation of a Dictator in Maduro, the plummeting degradation in the quality of life of the country that was once the richest and most prosperous nation in South America, catastrophic rise in crime and human rights violations becoming a daily affair in the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Yet, the Government celebrates.
The Way Forward
Now, as far as solutions go, it is often that whenever there is a humanitarian crisis, that the world turns to the International body of the United Nations and then to the United States of America for assistance. To their dismay, it isn’t the same U.S. that helped 125,000 Cubans in 1980, or even the one that provided respite to tens of thousands of Nicaraguans and Hondurans. The current Trump Administration has been totally against any sort of immigration that emanates from ‘shithole’ countries as President Trump puts it. It recently ended Temporary Protected Status for some 200,000 Salvadorans and 60,000 Haitians (the fate of an additional 87,000 Hondurans is unclear), and looks to begin deporting some 700,000 Mexican and Central American “Dreamers,” undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as kids. Not only has it halved the number of spots open to refugees, it is speeding up asylum applications for recent applicants — a decision that will likely result in the rapid repatriation of many Venezuelan asylum seekers who would otherwise have been able to work while waiting for the processing of their cases.
The Trump administration did offer Aid to Maduro but were rejected for the same reasons as stated above. What the Trump administration didn’t bother considering however is the influx of Venezuelans into the neighbouring countries and thus, left them to deal on their own.
Colombia, bearing the heaviest burden, has granted its own version of temporary protected status to some 150,000 Venezuelans, even as it has cut back on new visas, beefed up military patrols to stanch illegal crossings, and visited refugee camps in Turkey to look for best practices. Brazil declared a state of emergency in border state Roraima, doubling troops and ramping up basic services for the tens of thousands of newcomers. And while often not the first stop for those fleeing, Peru and Argentina have somewhat loosened visa requirements, enabling more Venezuelan migrants to stay and work.
In an age where both the United Nations as well as the United States have pulled out from coming to aid of these refugees as well as refugee stricken countries that are on the verge of failing themselves, Latin Countries need to hold each other’s hand and get through this together. With no formal organizations in Latin America, mandated or even capable of dealing with such a situation, there is a strong need for these countries to stop with their ‘Non-interventionist’ strategy when it comes to their neighbours. Almost all countries today in Latin America are democratic in nature and believe in democratic ideals. They’ll have to go a step further in order to pool in funds to assist Venezuela and its neighbours deal with this crisis. There is an urgent requirement of Infrastructure necessary to accommodate refugees. Infrastructure like house, hospitals, schools for the displaced children and mediums of making an earning for these refugees. To make this possible, countries can ask for Fast Track loans from the World Bank so that at least this problem is limited from blowing out of proportion.
As a logical, empathetic person, you’d hope for Proactive action from the United States, the way they reacted while ‘Liberating Iraq’. Maybe it is time for the world to understand that its Hegemon will no longer be there to solve the issues it created. Maybe it is time for Latin American Countries to take the pedestal and solve its issues once and for all.
Author: Bhavya Birla
Symbiosis Law School NOIDA