The Crisis in Venezuela Explained


Zavier Jobe, Staff Writer

Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the crisis in Venezuela from the media and the U.S. government. This comes after the leader of the opposition in the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president on January 23rd. Tensions further escalated when the U.S. government officially recognized Guaido as the official leader of Venezuela shortly after. This angered the current president of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, who at the time, ordered all U.S. diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours.

All of this conflict within the government of Venezuela is undoubtedly being caused by the current situation of the country. The country’s people are suffering due to lack of food and medicine. In addition to this, the economy is in a severe downturn, and due to high inflation, Venezuelan currency is almost worthless. This has caused massive protests in the streets, with protesters calling for the ousting of president Maduro.

Although there is a general consensus on why protests are happening in Venezuela, and why they are calling for Nicolas Maduro to be ousted, the reason why the country is in the state that it is in, and what the U.S. policy should be towards supporting Maduro and the current government are a little more hazy. To get a better understanding of this matter, it is important to go back to when Nicolas Maduro was first elected, and analyze the major actions he took during his presidency that led the country to the situation it is in today.

Venezuela held presidential elections on April 14th, 2013 following the death of incumbent president Hugo Chavez in March. Maduro, who had assumed the role of the presidency after Chavez’s death, won a narrow victory over his opponent (50.6%-49.1%). Shortly after Maduro’s election, the economy of Venezuela began to crumble.

According to the International Monetary Fund, since Maduro’s election the GDP per capita has fallen from 2,091 Bolivares (Venezuelan currency) to 1,355. The inflation rate has also risen to the highest in the world, from 19% to 946%. As a result of this, the murder rate in Venezuela has also spiked from 74 per 100,000 people to 91 per 100,000, worse than some of the most dangerous cities in the world. The poor in Venezuela are also estimated to make up about 82% of the population. Much of this crisis has been blamed on the “socialist” policies of Venezuela, however that is simply not the case. When analyzing the source of the country’s GDP, experts find that it is not Venezuela’s policies that put them in the situation they are in, but in fact the lack of diversity in the way the country makes money.

Maduro’s predecessor Hugo Chavez, who led the country from 1999 until his death in 2013 led the country through an economic boom, in which Venezuela was one of the richest countries in Latin America. This was due in large part because of the rise in oil prices, which is a major export for the country, and is the main source of their GDP. In response to this rise in income, Chavez spent the surplus of money on social programs for the people of Venezuela, such as food subsidies, improved education, and expanded healthcare.

However, after Chavez died and Maduro took over in 2013, oil prices began to drop internationally. This caused Venezuela’s GDP to decline due to its heavy reliance on money from oil exports. This caused a shortage of  governmental funds needed to pay for the programs enacted under Chavez, and thus an economic collapse that is still ongoing today. It was not the programs that led to the collapse of the Venezuelan government, but instead the failure of the government to adjust to the fact that oil prices were dropping. The government essentially put all of their eggs in one basket, and when that failed them, it led to the avalanche of issues that are occurring today.

In response to this, the people of Venezuela began to resent the leadership of Maduro. In the parliamentary elections of 2015, the coalition of opposition parties called the Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, won a two-thirds majority in the national assembly. Also, according to a poll from DatAnalysis, in 2016 80% of Venezuelans wanted Maduro removed from office.

Maduro has sensed the heightened support towards the opposition in the country and has moved to consolidate his power in the country since, transitioning Venezuela closer to authoritarian rule. With the new national assembly posing a risk to his rule, Maduro quickly forced out several supreme court justices aligned with the opposition, and replaced them with loyalists, essentially consolidating his power on the highest court in the country. In March of 2016, the new court stripped the opposition led National Assembly of its power, which led to mass protests around the country. Days later the ruling was reversed. However, Maduro was still adamant on consolidating his power, and in July of 2017 called for a vote to replace the current National Assembly with a new governing body called the National Constituent Assembly, which Maduro’s allies won control over. This new governing body had the power to rewrite the constitution, and left no opposition to Maduro’s rule in Venezuela’s government, securing him a tight grip on the government.

With this level of corruption and opposition to Maduro, some might ask how he is still able to hold onto power. The answer is that Maduro has secured the alliance of the countries military, who is granted special perks, such as currency that is worth significantly more than what the average person in Venezuela must use. In addition to this, Maduro granted the military control of the food supply in 2016, allowing them to take as much as they please, and leaving the poor to ration the remains. This is the same model authoritarians in other parts of the world, such as Russia and Turkey, have used to seize powers in those countries as well.

The United States government is weighing their options in response to the actions by Maduro. The government has already placed sanctions on Venezuela, and, as stated before, has recognized Juan Guaido as the president of Venezuela. President Donald Trump has said that all options are on the table and has consistently refused to rule out deploying the U.S. military to Venezuela.

Although the situation in Venezuela is a humanitarian crisis, there are a few problems with the United States inserting itself into the issues of the country. First of all, the United States would essentially be using the military to institute a regime change in Venezuela. Although the people of Venezuela want Maduro out, there is no indication that they want Guaido as their new leader either, meaning the U.S. could be replacing an unpopular leader with another person the people in the country do not want. The people of Venezuela should be able to choose for themselves who they wish to run their country, instead of a leader that the U.S. forced into power simply because he is friendly to the U.S. and European governments.

For further proof of this, one does not have to look far to see that the U.S. does not have a good record when it comes to assisting regime changes in other parts of the world. When the U.S. secretly supported the ousting of the democratically elected leader of Iran, and replaced him with an unpopular U.S. friendly leader, the people of Iran were not happy and overthrew him. Since then, tensions with Iran have been high, with the people and governments of both countries not trusting each other, and constantly finding themselves on opposite sides of international issues. In addition to this, when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Saddam Hussein and bring democracy to the people of Iraq, it was similarly met with disdain. Since 2003, the U.S. has been stuck fighting terrorists groups in Iraq such as ISIS, and has arguably made the situation worse, with the conflict spilling over into Syria.

The quagmire of endless war in the Middle East since 2003, 16 years, has not led to more safety and better conditions for the people of the Middle East or the world, in fact quite the opposite has happened. A whole generation of Americans cannot remember a time when the U.S. was not at war in the Middle East, and trillions of dollars of taxpayer money has been spent to fight an endless war in the region, money that could have been used to fund healthcare or education, not to mention the thousands of soldiers and civilians who have lost their lives since then. Even most who supported the war at the time now admit that it was a mistake and has led to more overall destabilization of the region and not less.

Although the crisis in Venezuela might cause some to believe that the government should use military intervention to “save the people of Venezuela” the U.S. must be cautious with their approach and think before acting on the matter.The U.S. must thread a thin line between steering the government of Venezuela back towards stability and democracy versus outright regime change. We must ensure that they do not make Venezuela the next Iraq.