My newsfeeds over the last year have been filled with viral videos, news clips, and outrage over Venezuela. Some are expecting the country to fall into a civil war.
How did the country fall to this depth? Venezuela was at once one of Latin America’s stronger economies. Did Western influences undermine Chavismo? Or was Chavismo doomed to fail?
Much is made of the influence of Hugo Chavez, with good reason. Chavez entered Venezuelan politics following a period of Latin American frustration over external influences in its backyard—the neoliberal policies brought on by “Western Imperialism,” as argued by many. A “Pink Tide” was rolling through Latin American politics as left-leaning figures became leaders of countries. Chavez was one of them.
People wanted change. Chavez signified that change.
And so “Chavismo”, or the “Bolivarian Revolution” swept through Venezuela. Chavez’s policies shrunk poverty levels in the 2000s. He brought heavy regulation across the nation’s industries in the name of social progress, and, quite notably, began relying heavily on oil exports to bring in some cash for the country. Whether done with good or bad intentions (corruption isn’t rare in Pink Tide-era Latin America), many analysts agree that these policy decisions were the seeds that grew into the malnourished apple tree that is present-day Venezuela.
Chavez became increasingly polarizing in his final days. He spoke out against the West (here publicly speaking out against the USA, and here publicly speaking out against Spain), accusing it of undermining the Bolivarian socialist efforts. His policies made it difficult for private investments to flourish, which was significant given the amount of social programs he implemented. By the end of his days, the poorest of Venezuela’s segments were feeling the pinch from economic shortages (see here for more). Chavez flew to ally Cuba to receive Cancer treatment but succumbed to his illness in 2013.
The general election that followed to fill Chavez’s vacant seat was indicative of how the country felt about Chavismo. Chavez’s successor, Nicolas Maduro, ended up winning the election, but by only a razor thin margin of 1.5%. That meant that half of the country was tired of Chavismo.
But the other half was willing to give it one last go.
That was 2013. Since then, oil sales haven’t been the same, meaning the country has continued to free fall from the summit Chavez promised to climb.
There are a number of events that have taken place over the last four years since Chavez’s death that illustrate the state of the country. Here are just some of the more recent story-lines I’ve decided to highlight:
The country’s economy has continued to plunge in recent months, with reports of inflation running at more than 700 percent.
Food Black Market
Access to food is scarce. Venezuelans are waking up early to line up in front of grocery stores for a chance to get their daily rations—“chance” because rations aren’t guaranteed. This has allowed a food black market to flourish, with consumers paying up to 100 times the regular price for basic food items like corn.
The black market runs deep.
The Venezuelan army was put in charge of distributing food rations, and as a result (and as reported by the Associated Press), investigators have discovered that soldiers of different ranks within the military have played a significant role in directing the market. Soldiers and generals have been reported to take significant percentages of sales.
Public Health Concerns
According to Venezuela’s Health Ministry, the country’s infant mortality rate shot up thirty percent in the last year. More than 11,000 babies died because of a lack of basic medicines and food. Furthermore, at that same time, three-quarters of Venezuela’s adult population reported having lost an average of 19 pounds in the past year.
International Concerns and room for Canada
The Associated Press reported that the country is pulling out of the Organization of American States. The Globe and Mail also reported that, much to the chagrin of Venezuelan officials, Peru’s Foreign Minister Ricardo Luna has publicly stated his wishes for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to act as a mediator in the crisis.
Protests against the country’s government have been commonplace and have unfortunately left casualties: In the last three months, more than 70 have died in demonstrations.
Desperate to Leave
More recently, the Globe and Mail noted the effects the crisis is having on neighbouring countries: many Venezuelans are leaving their homes; 150 Venezuelans a day are seeking asylum in Brazil, and an estimated 550,000 are living illegally in Colombia.
The Associated Press also reported that the number of Venezuelan asylum requests for the US is also on the rise as
The most recent data from Citizenship and Immigration Services show 8,301 Venezuelans requested asylum in the first three months of 2017. That compares to 3,507 in the first quarter of 2016 and puts the country on pace to surpass last year’s record of 18,155 requests.
And those are only a few of the story-lines. Do a quick Google search and you’re bound to find more.
Keep Your Eyes Peeled
An editorial note: I’ve written this post in part because some within my social circles are confused about what’s happening in Venezuela. I can’t blame them. For one, there’s a long history of Venezuelan politics to cover (consider my version a NotesByHenry Coles notes). Also, at the conception of this blog post, the world had just been hit by the news of numerous London terrorist attacks and the Trump/FBI saga. There’s only so much news one can absorb.
The other part of me is genuinely concerned and the region and the real-world consequences of this crisis—for instance, as I’ve written above, the ripple effect that is Venezuelan migration can already be seen in the migration patterns of refugees. History has shown how Latin American civil wars in the 1980s altered the demographics of Western countries—not just in Canada and the US, but also in faraway countries like Australia and Italy—which has fueled conversations around immigration politics, civil rights, etc. (*ahem* the 2016 US election, *ahem* Brexit).
As I’ve written in my previous post about Fidel Castro’s legacy, this post isn’t meant to criticize socialist policies. It’s meant to examine what happens when a country is mismanaged, regardless of whether you lean toward the left or the right.
We could learn something from this case—the issue is complex but one worth keeping an eye on. The threat of civil war looms on the horizon.