Last week, Venezuela’s General Prosecutor, Luisa Ortega Diaz, spoke at a press conference where she asked both government and anti-government supporters to abstain from violence as the death toll escalates with 26 dead, more than 400 injured and over 1000 detained in this year alone.
Although government opposition aimed to keep the protests peaceful, in recent weeks we have seen an increase in the number of violent demonstrations as tensions escalate. Venezuelan opposition leaders are seeking for President Nicolas Maduro to resign and are accusing him of trying to turn the country into a dictatorship, as evident last month when the Supreme Court stripped congress from its powers before international criticism led to the decision being reversed. Despite the deployment of the army to maintain order on the streets of Venezuela, protestors in numbers from hundreds of thousands to over a million, continue to rally.
Why has there been protesting? The straightforward answer is that the opposition parties claim that Maduro has become authoritarian. Not only has the government obstructed every attempt that the people make to unseat the president through a referendum, they have also time after time delayed local and state elections.
Venezuela is also in a crisis, food shortages are problematic, many are left to wait weeks on end just to receive basic necessities. Even when there is food in the stores, the prices are so high that the poor have to turn to eating remains of food out of bin bags – the ‘spectre of hyperinflation’ is haunting Venezuela.
With Venezuela in a cash-loss spiral, it’s down to its last $10 billion. That means there has been a drastic decrease in the number of pharmaceutical supplies being imported into Venezuela, causing a medicine shortage. The healthcare system has fallen apart, and the lack of basic supplies has left hundreds of people dead, including infants. The country has even turned to the United Nations for help.
Where has all the money gone? Well, Venezuela owes an estimated $7.2 billion in outstanding debt payments. Other factors include the government overspending, the currency plummeting in value and elevated levels of corruption in the country. Also, the International Monetary Fund predicts that inflation will rise to 1,660% this year.
Oil prices stand at half of what they were in 2014, this has drastically affected the Venezuelan economy. Venezuela has more oil reserves than any other country and 90% of its exports are petroleum related. This means that it will be improbable that the government will manage to pay off its debt and continue to import basic necessities, especially if the country imported goods worth a total of $27.5 billion in 2015.
The predictions for the unemployment do not look positive either, with it predicted to surpass 20% this year – that’s over 6 million people without work. On top of this, Venezuela’s economy has shifted from a recession to a depression, shrinking 18.6% in 2016.
How about what Venezuela’s neighbours have to say? The Trump administration has only lightly touched upon the issue. In mid-February, President Trump tweeted a photo of himself with Lilian Tintori, the wife of a prominent anti-government figure, Leopoldo Lopez. In that tweet, he stated that ‘Venezuela should allow Leopoldo Lopez, a political prisoner…out of prison immediately.’
At a press conference, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, answered a question regarding the recent events, telling reporters that the US government was ‘concerned that the government of Maduro is violating its own constitution and is not allowing the opposition to have their voices heard, nor allowing them to organize in a way that expresses the views of the Venezuelan people.’
Even the South American region is split, and whilst there are Caribbean and Central American nations which depend on cheap Venezuelan oil, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay all signed a statement condemning the government of Venezuela, calling for elections and demanding that they ‘guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration.’
Last year, His Holiness Pope Francis sent an envoy to act a mediator between the government and opposition forces. Although this was a failure, Pope Francis stated that he was willing to meet personally with both parties to ensure the conflict ends.
There is only one way for Venezuela to turn its situation around, and that is to return to democracy. The people should know that if the nation upholds the democratic standards that it is expected to maintain, the international community will be willing to supply stability and growth.
If this is to be achieved, the opposition forces need to come together and unite under one vision. Whether the issue is tackling injustice or reviving the oil industry, people need to work together if they want to truly succeed in the long term.