You’ve probably seen “Venezuela” splashed out on headlines for awhile now. Let’s rewind and understand where all the chaos is coming from, where it is now and where it’s headed.
For the first half of the 20th century Venezuela was plagued by oppressive dictatorships while gaining momentum as one of the world’s leading oil producers. Of course, this booming wealth didn’t fall in the hands of the common citizens, the majority of whom lived in poverty with few resources to housing, education or medical aid.
Things went from bad to worse in 1988 when global oil prices dropped drastically, sending the economy into a tailspin of hyperinflation, unemployment, debt and increased urban crime. In 1992, military officer Hugo Chavez led an unsuccessful revolt against the government and was thrown into prison for two years, but he ultimately became a revolutionary hero to many Venezuelans. Chavez was then elected into presidency in 1998, winning over the people with promises of granting a “better world” through socialism.
Fourteen years later, Chavez died from cancer and his VP came aboard: Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro became President in 2013 and everything went downhill again. The global oil market crashed in 2014, which certainly didn’t help the country’s poor fiscal management record. Venezuela depended on oil for more than 90 percent of its export revenues. So the crash caused an economic crisis—worse-than-the-Great-Depression crisis, with food and medicine shortages, high crime and hyperinflation, bomb-bursting protests and forceful military pushback. The National Assembly didn’t like the way Maduro was running things, so in 2017 he changed the constitution and made a new assembly.
This Constitutional Crisis created Maduro’s new Constituent Assembly which has operated alongside the opposition assembly ever since, slowly taking over legislative powers. Then in May 2018, Maduro announced that he had won his re-election. But considering the low voter turnout and his background of scare tactics and dictator tendencies, the legitimacy was widely contested.
Despite the controversy, Maduro showed up to his inauguration on Jan. 10 and the people were upset. The National Assembly declared a state of emergency. The Organization of American States ruled the presidency fraudulent and demanded re-election. Global demonstrations and backlash erupted.
On Jan. 23, the National Assembly declared their leader Juan Guaido interim president, which was backed up by Article 233 of the Venezuelan constitution and had the support of more than 50 nations.
The U.S. has acted as one of Guaido’s strongest supporters, devoting another $56 million in aid to help Venezuelan citizens. On Feb. 23, U.S. trucks loaded with food and medical supplies tried to cross the Colombian border to reach the impoverished Venezuelans, but the Maduro-loyal troops blocked the convoys.
“He would rather see his people starve than give them aid,” said President Donald Trump at a rally in Florida. “We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.”
The current state of Venezuela is marked by at least 40 Venezuelans dead since January, according to the U.N., linked to Maduro’s “Death Squad” of soldiers. More than three million people and counting have fled the country.
The country suffered a massive power outage on Friday March 8. 17 people have died according to the opposition assembly. As of Sunday, 16 states remain without any power and six with only partial power, according to Guaido. Maduro claims it’s a U.S. cyber attack, while Guaido blames Venezuela’s corruption and economic chaos.
“We are in the middle of a catastrophe that is not the result of a hurricane, that is not the result of a tsunami,” Guaido told CNN. “It’s the product of the inefficiency, the incapability, the corruption of a regime that doesn’t care about the lives of Venezuelans.”
This nightmare, decades in the making, is not expected to die out anytime soon. Venezuela is looking at a long, long road ahead to recovery.