In the midst of its worst economic crisis to date and a time of riotous political turmoil, the crisis in Venezuela has led to a call from the UN to investigate potential crimes against humanity. Following the death of Hugo Chavez, socialist Nicolas Maduro became president. Shortly after this succession, global oil prices plummeted, as a consequence of Saudi Arabian policy intended to keep oil prices low for political gain. Seeing as 95% of Venezuela’s export revenues depends on oil, extreme revenue losses exacerbated a broken economy. Maduro’s popularity rapidly diminished in conjunction with the economic collapse. In response to the dissent, the Supreme court elected to assume the legislative powers of the National Assembly, which had previously been controlled by the opposition.
Opponents saw this move as evidence of Maduro’s intents on installing a dictatorship in a historically socialist country. Protests and riots erupted in the streets and Maduro has been accused of using authoritarian means to quell dissent. At the end of July, Venezuelans voted to choose the members of a New Constituent Assembly in charge of drafting a new constitution. The win claimed by Maduro raised many eyebrows, and the election received worldwide criticism. The EU condemned the election results and the US imposed sanctions and joined ranks with Colombia and Mexico in saying they would not recognize the results of the election. Recently, the EU voted to impose an arms embargo on Venezuela, and the US added more sanctions aimed at officials thought to be engaged in the election irregularities.
Growing distrust in the government is a symptom of the unprecedented economic crisis leaving Venezuela on the brink of default. It is estimated that inflation will reach 679.73% by the end of the year. This ongoing three year economic crisis correlates with the highest levels of poverty and violence ever witnessed in the country’s history. The public health industry has been especially rocked by the economic crisis with life saving medicines in extremely short supply. Leaders of the opposition have been reportedly subject to criminal proceedings, excessive force, and unwarranted detentions. Members of the UN echo concerns about the dismantling of democracy in Venezuela and fear the country is falling into a dictatorship.
As of November 14th, Venezuela has defaulted on its debt and missed a payment. It is feared that if enough bondholders move to demand immediate repayment, the broke country would be unable to pay which would entitle investors to seize Venezuelan assets, namely oil barrels. This would quickly exacerbate the food and medical shortages likely turning Caracas into a full fledged battleground. The opposition demands the removal from office of the Supreme Court justices responsible for the ruling to take over the powers of the National Assembly, and they want general elections for 2017 in the hopes of keeping the flame of democracy alive. Furthermore, they demand the release of the “political prisoners” that have been wrongly convicted or detained. This phenomenon speaks to the erosion of human rights guarantees and the aggregation of power in the Venezuelan executive branch. The turmoil has prompted a refugee crisis to neighboring countries. Peru, Colombia and Brazil, among others, have opened their borders to accept an influx of nearly half a million Venezuelan refugees fleeing political persecution and unmitigated inflation growth. Many immigrants leave in desperate need of life saving medication and health care, while others seek enough food to simply feed their family. Freddy Guevara, a leader in the opposition and a Venezuelan lawmaker, fled Venezuela as a government agency surrounded his house. Chile offered him political asylum. Surrounding countries brace for an inpouring of refugees, but struggle to find a balance in accepting those fleeing persecution and keeping their own country safe. The crisis has created a climate in which many refugees work for less than minimum wage and live in unsuitable housing accommodations in asylum countries, perpetuating a seemingly unending cycle of poverty. The battle between the opposition and the government rages on and the citizens bear the biggest burden of all. At least 46 people have been killed by security forces in street protests in 2017. As the government struggles to try to slow the hyperinflation, the people remain hungry, thirsty, and lacking in necessary health care. The Venezuelan crisis has reached a boiling point which perpetuated the spread of fear throughout South America. The fall of Venezuela would deliver a massive blow to the economic stability of the entire continent.