Venezuela, once the richest country in Latin America, and home to one of the largest oil reserves in the world, has been experiencing a massive economic downturn. Many people attribute the problems to the economic mismanagement and political corruption under Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Venezuela’s economy declined thirty percent from 2013, the year that Maduro assumed his responsibilities after the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to 2017.
The Wall Street Journal report that the U.S. dollar is equal to 236,000 Venezuelan Bolivars. Furthermore, reckless money-printing has been noted as one of the factors that led to the mass hyperinflation of Venezuela, which is at 80,000% according to currency expert Steve Hanke. Many people also claim that the hyperinflation in Venezuela currently is comparable to the inflation in post World War One Germany.
The hyperinflation and overall downward spiral of the economy has led to extreme shortages in food and medicine. The Venezuelan Bolivar has become virtually worthless. Reports say that a cup of coffee in Venezuela costs almost 1 million bolivars, which is approximately equal to one month’s worth of salary. Maigualida Oronoz, a Venezuelan nurse, said “We are millionaires, but we are poor.”
Because there is too much money in circulation, and money is practically worthless, people in Venezuela are making bags out of money to sell.
As a result of the growing and widespread discontent of the Maduro presidency, Maduro felt it necessary to ban his two most popular opponents, Leopoldo Lopez and Henrique Capriles, in order to secure the presidency in the reelection. Because many Venezuelans felt that the election was rigged from the start, they decided to boycott it in order to avoid giving legitimacy to the process.
On January 23rd 2019, Juan Guaido, leader of one of the country’s opposition parties, declared himself as the interim president of Venezuela. The declaration was a direct challenge to Nicolas Maduro’s presidency. Many people, including some Venezuelan citizens, have criticized his power grab as unconstitutional, since he was not elected by Venezuelans.
Despite criticism, Guaido has been gaining support from many international leaders, including American President Donald J. Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. All the international leaders recognizing Guaido as the legitimate president have defended their support by citing the rights of Venezuelans to a fair and free election. The United States further showed its disapproval of the current regime in Venezuela by imposing sanctions on the country.
Nicolas Maduro defended himself, asserting, “I am the only president of Venezuela. We do not want to return to the 20th century of gringo interventions and coups d’état.” Supporters of Maduro claim that because Maduro won the election, Guaido is not the legitimate president.
Despite the discord regarding who may actually be the legitimate president of Venezuela, it is clear that the Venezuelans are desperately in need of assistance. As many as three million Venezuelans have sought refuge in other countries. Colombia has established an open door policy to provide assistance and has welcomed almost one million refugees. Many people have argued that the United States, instead of imposing sanctions, should give humanitarian assistance to the Venezuelans to alleviate their problems.
Other people have advocated for U.S. intervention in Venezuela. Sherelyn Alejandro, a student at Brooklyn Technical High School, vehemently opposes this proposal. She says, “The first thing we should do is prevent foreign intervention. Many countries, including the United States, only want to intervene because Venezuela has vast amounts of oil.” Several people, like Sherelyn, believe that foreign intervention would destabilize the country even more. Whatever the solution may be, it is clear that the current crisis in Venezuela will be looked at as one of the most devastating economic depressions of the 21st century.