Venezuela is currently facing its worst humanitarian crisis in history. Past predictions by the International Monetary Fund projected inflation in Venezuela to reach 700% and the economy to shrink 10% by the end of 2016. Venezuela’s economy was proved to be the world’s worst performing economy last year and the crisis only deepens as the government fails to set its priorities right. It prefers debt payment over food shortages, the president’s whims over the common man’s miseries, and unfortunately, a dictatorship over a democracy. Venezuela desperately needs new economic policies as well as new leadership to implement measures that could revolutionize its economy into a thriving, or at least sustainable, legacy.
Once a rich country with a strong leadership that profited from its oil reserves, Venezuela is currently in economic turmoil and can slide into instability and social disorder. Across the country, food shortages have led to long cues of people waiting outside for the scarce supply of basic necessities. The built up frustration in the citizens is leading to small riots, illegal practices and a frighteningly high rate of murder and violence.
President Maduro, the successor of former president Hugo Chavez, and the leader of PSUV has control of the supreme court and all the national institutions with the exception of the national assembly that houses the opposition parties. He had declared a sixty day state of emergency and even threatened to close the assembly down. The emergency decree grants super powers to the president and extra power to military in maintaining public order. The economic crisis was inherited from Chavez’s short sighted policies of using its revenues to pay for generous social welfare benefits and discouraging private industry which could have eventually diversified its nation’s economic basis. After Maduro came to power in 2013, Venezuelan oil prices dropped to 50% in one year and since the economy is completely based on oil prices, it hasn’t recovered since. According to a BBC journalist who wishes to remain anonymous, “Both the government and the opposition have taken extreme positions right now. Maduro realizes that if he wants to hang on to power, there just can’t be any more elections. The opposition realizes that they can’t let this opportunity go. In many ways, it’s a deadlock, and yet, a rapidly changing scenario.”
People in Venezuela fear that the ‘Caracazo’ (urban based riots and lootings) that it faced in 1999 could be repeated this time as well. Looting, robbery, and black marketing have become the norm. Water and electricity supplies are diminishing on a regular basis. While the Maduro government looks away, tension has built up and this may lead to an eventual government crackdown. The deepening frustration among people has escalated to an extent where they are crossing over to Columbia where the sight of fully stocked supermarkets moves them to tears. The tragic fate of Venezuela is ironic; the country with the world’s largest reserves of oil has its people scrambling for basic food items and necessities such as milk, bread and toilet paper. However, as Walter Johnson senior junior Debbie Kaufman, points out, “Economies cycle back to equilibrium naturally, so it [will probably] recover eventually.” Perhaps this crisis is different in nature than our own recessions, but only time will tell if the country will rebuild itself.
Article by MoCo Student staff writer Maarisha Upadhyay of Walter Johnson High School