Imagine waking up, weighing less than half as much as you normally would, and knowing that in order to muster up enough energy to survive throughout the whole day you need to scavenge through piles of garbage for scraps to eat. Sadly, the Venezuelan people face this reality on a daily basis, and the systemic blame ought to be put on the seductive, yet terribly deceptive, view of socialism which has managed to fool societies for so long, coupled with Keynesian economic principles that have the potential of being equally ruinous.
Venezuela has been in the midst of economic and political turmoil as the majority of its citizens demand that President Nicolas Maduro step down from office.
The country, because of deteriorating conditions, actually declared a state of emergency about a year ago. Protests have been active since March 20th when Venezuela’s highest court tried to disband the national assembly in an attempt to weaken Maduro’s opponent. Since then, tensions escalate daily. Venezuela’s repressive dictatorship continues to use extreme violence against anyone who opposes its policies, imprisoning hundreds of peaceful protesters.
Moreover, the country experienced widespread shortages of food and medicine. As a result, around 81 percent of Venezuelan households live in income poverty, which is a substantial five percent increase from just two years ago.
How It Started:
Venezuela’s crises stem from various places with a primary cause being the country’s long history of mismanagement and corruption within its government. The 2013 death of Hugo Chavez and the price of oil crashing shortly afterward exacerbated the dictatorship’s corruption.
Venezuela has experienced, and continues to experience, some of the worst economic crises in its history, despite having the world’s largest oil reserves and its once predominant status as being the richest country in South America. Economists blame this downturn on Chavez’s socialist policies of domestic price controls and overprinting currency.
Marxist-inspired social welfare programs finance Venezuela’s economy. When the price of oil fell in 2014, the government began providing fewer essential services to its citizens, thus creating a spiral of economic problems. The government decided to cut imports to pay back the foreign debts that worsened the economy.
With a recession becoming quite imminent, the government stepped in and made the situation even worse by setting price controls on necessities. Although intended to afford more Venezuelans the ability to purchase necessities, the new regulations only forced more local companies out of businesses due to a lack of revenue.
Since businesses couldn’t afford to continue producing and importing products due to already low revenue streams, selling them at even lower prices (i.e. the government’s forced price) decreased the revenue necessary for companies to sustain themselves. The companies that are lucky enough to remain in business have extremely long lines of shoppers, and consequentially run out of goods due to insatiable demand.
Also, the government continues to print more money it doesn’t have to fund the little food and shanty dwellings that it provides. This printed money creates mass inflation and hurts the economy. In 2016, Venezuelan consumer prices rose 800 percent. In short, Venezuela’s crises started from the price of oil crashing and the government’s reaction to cutting imports, tragically combined with the country’s socialist policies of domestic price controls and overprinting currency. These “helpful” tactics only heightened the recession.
During all these economic hardships, the government’s theft and corruption became more transparent. While the rest of the population continues to delve further into poverty, Hugo Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, is worth $3.6 billion and is considered the richest person in Venezuela. Nonetheless, the Venezuelan public’s awareness of this corruption increases day by day, and hundreds of thousands take to the streets demanding change.
The Current Condition:
Venezuela’s economic crisis is arguably one of the worst economic recessions in South America. The previous waves of demonstrations in Venezuela occurred in 2014 and were student-led; now, the protests include a significant portion of the working class.
Unfortunately, the government seems to take an unkindly stance towards these demonstrations, often resorting to intimidation and violence. The police and military personnel unjustly arrest and detain protesters. In some instances, violence erupts on a massive scale, with protesters and military personnel clashing. It is estimated that the death toll in Venezuela has soared past 100.
For those detained by the military, the future appears quite grim due to a lack of proper due process. Amnesty International emphasizes how Venezuela’s use of military courts to try civilians undermines the rule of law, and violates the country’s constitution. Authorities routinely storm the homes of non-violent activists and lock them up for crimes such as terrorism or “treason against the homeland.” These sentences allow the use of pre-trial detention. These courts are designed to solely function within the confines of the armed forces, yet are instead applied to peaceful protesters.
Most tragically however is the ever-increasing widespread shortages of food and medicine, which resulted in greater government control and opened the door for more corruption. Local committees of the Socialist Party run food distribution, and food items are distributed only to those who are part of the Socialist Party even though there is barely enough food to survive.
Additionally, news stations such as Vice News reveal the minute amount of food each family is expected to live on. Sadly, the process of supplying food continues to be entrenched in corruption. Military generals skim about 50 percent of the socialized food and sell it on the black market to make a profit, resulting in less for the party members. Moreover, supermarkets are not only short on food but also missing the staple foods of flour, bread, butter, sugar and milk. Impoverished citizens have started to lose weight as a result, with a survey by three of the country’s leading universities stating that three-fourths of Venezuelans lost weight last year by an average of 19 pounds.
The lack of food also caused a mass decrease in school attendance by both students and teachers. An overwhelming number of students have fainted from hunger while teachers are too busy to teach in that they stand in line to get food for their children instead.
Finally, and exhaustively, the limited access to water, food and medicine also intensifies street crime. Caracas is now the murder capital of the world, and ransacking of food trucks is now a common occurrence. Despite all this, Venezuela’s leaders continue to deny that there are any humanitarian crises, while celebrities like Michael Moore remain silent on their previous ovation of Hugo Chavez’s socialism.
It is still relatively uncertain what the future of Venezuela holds, but it definitely seems formidable based on past observation and current happenings. We as Americans should be praying for the safety, security, and comfort of the Venezuelan people, and should show our solidarity with them in their plight. Only time will tell whether the economic, political, and social crises resolve themselves, or lead to a complete disintegration of the country.