Just over a decade ago, Venezuela was a booming country. Headed by a charismatic leader, with plenty of social systems for the poor and disabled, Venezuela was in a very different state in the early 2000s. Today, Venezuela takes up headlines as a country caught in a dramatic downward spiral, as poverty skyrockets, and millions of its people go hungry. It’s hard to imagine that a nation that had so much going for it a little over ten years ago could fall apart so quickly. The truth behind Venezuela’s rise and fall may have a lot of moving parts, but the elements involved in this dramatic economic crash and political debacle are quite simple.
The Boom and Bust of Oil
You’ve probably seen Venezuela a lot in the headlines in recent months. Between stories of epidemic level poverty and soaring inflation rates, Venezuela has been painted as a nation on the verge of collapse. Unfortunately, these headlines aren’t far from the truth. Surprisingly enough, Venezuela was once a wealthy country thanks to their lucrative part in the oil business. While the oil barrel plays a central role in country’s success, it is also responsible for its collapse.
From 1999 to 2013 Venezuela was lead by the ever-popular President Hugo Chavez. Chavez rose to power thanks to his support of the poor, and promises of social reform. These programs were revolutionary for Venezuela as they distributed some of the nations vast wealth amongst the people. These reform plans would have been great had Chavez been thinking about the long term.
Chavez died in office on March 5th, 2013, leaving the nation devastated and right on the heels of severe economic collapse. Not long after Chavez left office the value of oil dropped, and so did the Venezuelan economy. Chavez, being the revolutionary reformist he was, founded all his programs on the promise that the price of oil would continue to rise. So when the value per barrel fell, the budget deficit soared.
This sudden collapse could have been mitigated if someone had made some radically progressive decisions during the crash. Instead, when Chavez died, Venezuela was given the corrupt and power hungry Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro and the Big Crash
Enter Nicolas Maduro. Maduro was one of Chavez’s top henchmen and is the sitting president of Venezuela. Maduro inherited a nation that was on the verge of collapse. While Chavez’s brash decision making led to the initial crash, Maduro’s strategy of ignoring the problem through the consolidation of power has only made the problem worse.
Amidst rolling blackouts, a starving populace, and booming crime rates, Maduro has rejected any help from outside countries. Instead, Maduro has given himself the power to ‘rule by decree.’ A ruling by decree essentially means that his word goes, and has made himself more of a dictator rather than a democratically elected president.
In as little as ten years, Venezuela has become one of the poorest nations in the world. Compared to the previous year, inflation rates have gone up over 13,000 percent, making the Venezuelan bolivar practically worthless. Although money matters little in a country where there is nothing to sell. According to a recent study, more than 90% of the population go without food or money, and the average person has lost approximately 19 pounds. This drastic rate of starvation has even been coined by critics as the Maduro Diet.
The people have attempted to rise up against Mad Maduro, taking to the streets in the thousands. However, Maduro has such a tight grip on the military that protests typically result in imprisonment or even death. Political competitors of Maduro have been banned from running against him, like opposition leader Henrique Capriles who was banned from running for president for 15 years. Amongst all this chaos, there seems to be no end in sight, as Maduro seems to be relentless in exacting power over the people of Venezuela.
The State of Things
Day to day life for the average Venezuelan citizen is bleak. A vast majority of the population is starving and without proper healthcare. Even if you are lucky enough to have money, store shelves remain empty, and many places of business have shut their doors entirely. Other nations around the world have tried to reach out to solve the devolving situation, but Maduro has shut them out, fearing they might try and oust him rather than provide aid. The United States has even answered Maduro with sanctions, that will more than likely make the problem even worse. While there is no end in sight for the chaos in Venezuela, dictatorships like Maduro’s can only last so long.