Humanitarian Crisis in Venezuela and the Fall of Democracy, Explained

Jan. 23, 1958, Venezuela officially rose from a dictatorship to a democracy and eventually into one of South America's wealthiest countries. Much of the wealth is attributed to the fact that Venezuela currently sits on one of the world's largest oil reserves; and in the year 2004, when oil prices were at their highest, former President Hugo Chávez took advantage of this fact and used the money brought in to pay for programs that would help the poor, who were the percentage of Venezuelans responsible for his presidency.

At its peak, many Venezuelans profited from food subsidies, education, and a federal healthcare system, all of which helped lower the poverty rate. However, while in office, Chávez failed to set up other forms of income, which made Venezuela dangerously oil-dependent. This was not a secure income on its own, and when oil prices dropped, it was these same people that suffered the most. 

In addition, many of Chávez’s political moves would come into question, primarily those like the judicial reforms that would allow for the removal of the legislature’s upper house in an attempt to reduce checks on his power as president.

After his death in 2013, Venezuela elected his mentee, Nicholas Maduro, a socialist, who echoed the antics of his mentor. Maduro’s presidency has been met by much more opposition due to the fact that by the time he took office, Venezuela’s economy was on the brink of collapsing. Food and medicine prices skyrocketed from hyperinflation and as of 2017, 87 percent of Venezuelans now live below the poverty line, with every 9 out of 10 Venezuelans not able to afford a daily meal. This has resulted in the involuntary weight loss of nearly 22 pounds in the past year alone.

Courtesy: Teen Vogue

 

Venezuela made headlines for these alarming numbers back in 2017, but it was Maduro’s reelection on May 30, 2018, that especially drew attention in the news. The streets of Venezuela were quick to erupt in protest and concerns over fraudulent voting arose. 

Maduro may have won 68% of the votes, but the turnout rate was only at 46%. Citizens and foreign officials refuse to recognize the results as legitimate considering that the major opposition has either been barred from running or imprisoned under false accusations of attempting to stage a coup against Maduro.

As tension continues to rise in Venezuela, a new face emerged in hopes of restoring order to the country. Juan Guaidó, a member of the National Assembly and Maduro’s opposition, was declared interim president until the situation can be resolved. He was immediately recognized as the leader of Venezuela by a number of countries such as Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Colombia, Ecuador, the U.K. and the U.S.

Other countries including Spain, France, and Mexico have given Maduro a deadline of Feb. 3 to hold talks and elections before choosing a side. Until then, Guaidó has issued a statement via the New York Times stating “Our strength, and salvation of all Venezuela is in unity.”