Crisis in Venezuela
April 22, 2019
The situation in Venezuela is chaotic. The Bolívar, the nation’s currency, has been left nearly worthless after hyperinflation of nearly 10 million percent, according to the International Monetary Fund. Venezuelans face severe shortages of food, water, and medical care, and over 3 million people, a tenth of the Latin American nation’s population, have fled. In March, the country was rocked by a six day long, nationwide power outage.
The origins of the crisis root back to the early 2000s, when then president Hugo Chavez built the nation’s economy exclusively on oil exports, importing everything else from food to clothing to luxury goods. Eventually, Chavez was replaced by current president Nicolás Maduro, and in 2015 oil prices cratered. Maduro declared a ‘war on capitalism’ and refused to take action on the worsening economic crisis, while simultaneously removing democratic establishments and concentrating power in himself, hastening the slide into the chaos now seen in Venezuela.
In January of this year, after an election widely considered fraudulent in which Maduro was elected for a second term, leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, declared himself interim president. Guaidó has been recognized by more than 50 democracies around the world, including by the US. Yet the Trump administration’s move to support Guaidó has been perceived as a controversial move in the US, and American liberals have taken to the streets with the slogan “hands off Venezuela” (a slogan Maduro himself is quite fond of as well). It is usually Trump who sides with authoritarian rulers, but in this case it appears to be the other side of the aisle, with Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Ilhan Omar all supporting “hands off Venezuela”.
It’s true that the US has a questionable, imperialist history of meddling in Latin American countries, and that we should tread carefully in interfering in foreign affairs. But by supporting Guaidó, the US and 50 other nations are not trying to incite an illegitimate Coup d’etat, or to create a regime change. They are trying to restore Venezuela’s democratic norms, and allow for free and fair elections to take place. Juan Guaidó declaring himself interim president was not a power grab for himself, it was an effort to return power to the Venezuelan people and their democratic institutions.
A US policy of inaction in Venezuela would mean leaving an authoritarian ruler in power to continue to mismanage the Venezuelan economy and mistreat the Venezuelan people. If the decline in Venezuela continues at its current rate, it could create a humanitarian crisis on par with the refugee crisis in Syria, which could destabilize the entire region. For the US, “hands off Venezuela” would really mean blood on our hands.