Venezuela: A Country Being Played?

In my previous articles, I have spoken about Latin America, its foundations, shortcomings, and how the past shall shape its future. Today, I talk about Venezuela, its decade-old story, its battle for survival and the turn of events. Fate does play cruel games with us at times, and Venezuela is a prime example of a country that has been played. From being one of the stronger economies of Latin America, Venezuela has seen a chronic downfall which would have been unimaginable only two decades ago. In the span of ten short years, everything has miraculously changed. Venezuela is now one of the most volatile countries in the world and is facing absolute poverty like no other country at the moment. This is a strange phenomenon, for the country is well endowed with oil reserves and is also one of the OPEC members. A scarcity of resources for a ‘petronation’ seems to be astounding. But poverty isn’t the worst of all that Venezuela faces. The law and order of the country is in shambles and despite having skilled labour, it has gone down the same road as Syria or Iraq (though there is no terror organization functioning just yet). When other countries are reaching milestones in the context of economic freedom, and political liberty, Venezuela is coping up with poverty and extreme cases of starvation.

Foreign support to the country, especially in monetary terms, is relatively minuscule. China has poured almost $60 billion into the country as foreign investment, and through trade. But now, even China is reluctant, and new money given to the nation doesn’t add up to significant amounts. The only country showing faith amongst all others is Russia. However, foreign support or not, the disaster that has been wrecked throughout Venezuela by the present regime of Nicolas Maduro is too great to really be helped at all. There is not even an ounce of doubt regarding the fact that, under Nicolas Maduro, power has been abused. And from healthcare to education, the country is struggling to keep afloat. People in huge numbers are suffering from diseases like malaria, measles and tuberculosis, with no medical help or any other proper facilities. Underinvestment and corruption have left the healthcare system in shambles. Starvation, poverty, corruption, and violence in the nation has led to the commoners fleeing to get away from an oppressive rule. In fact, statistics show that approximately three million people have fled the country since 2017.

Venezuela is one of the most astounding cases of economic mismanagement and too much concentration of power in the hands of the state. Venezuela’s people see no hope for the future, while their country sees prices double every month. The GDP has halved and the country’s pension scheme helps no one. Oil production has gone down to a meagre one million barrels a day, cutting off a huge proportion of revenue from the oil export business. In addition, the country is so deep in debt that people have lost the ability to hold their heads high. The middle class is highly irked and aggressively vocal about their feelings towards the dictator. And this has led to protests in most of the regions, especially due to the fact that they believe the elections were rigged. According to a survey report, about 80% of the population (32 million) does not recognise Mr Maduro as their supreme leader. But Maduro seems to be untouchable with the army at his disposal.

Slowly, the world is finally responding to the crisis along with Venezuela’s political opposition. Juan Guaido, the leader of the National Assembly has proclaimed to be the true leader of the nation. To show support and appreciation for Guaido, around one million men and women took to the streets. Their march was a demand for a proper democracy and greater rights for the innocent people who are paying the price for an unruly regime. Guaido too is playing on the same emotions of the people. He has stated that he wants to “rebuild” the country and bring back proper democracy. The path to removing Maduro, however, is a dangerous one. Many might even call it fruitless. The dictatorship has in the past responded to such opposition leaders with violence. However, Venezuelans believe that Guaido’s case is different from the rest because of the timing. The army, which has fiercely protected Maduro till now, is said to have lost interest, given they are not paid enough. Due to hyperinflation, the 36 thousand bolivars that they earn per month is almost next to nothing. The army demands and supports the side with money. If Maduro cannot keep them satisfied, then the situation might reverse in favour of Guaido and the people. Towards the end of January, Guaido released a statement saying that he has indeed talked to the army in order to make it switch sides.

Various western countries have stood up in support of Guaido as the interim President till the elections are announced. The United States has taken the matter to the United Nations and has called for military intervention. So now, instead of it being a Venezuelan matter, it is becoming an issue of global politics. Everyone is pitching in according to whom they favour more. The US and its allies have come down on Maduro. The US government has withheld payments for oil and has stated that they would pay only when the legitimate leader, Guaido, comes into power. Economic sanctions imposed on the country have made Venezuela even poorer, and the lack of money has facilitated a sharper drop in the production of crude oil. The oil industry of Venezuela could collapse any day now.

However, the main game, under such circumstances remains between the US, Russia, and China. It seems like this is a desperate move by the US to regain control in Latin America, where Chinese presence has grown by leaps and bounds over half a decade. As for Russia, a military intervention in Venezuela would show (to put it bluntly) the finger to the US just like in Crimea. But the real question is, does military intervention (by the US or Russia) really help the masses in Venezuela? How can one be sure that it wouldn’t turn into another Libya or Syria, where the US military had intervened to “give power back to the people” but ended up causing chaos and violence. Will US military action unite Venezuela by removing Maduro from power or destroy yet another country with oil reserves? The truth of the situation right now is that if the US really comes down to military action, then no other country will stop it. Be it China or Russia. They will all watch the spectacle because going against the US in its own backyard is foolish and in every way a loss for them, economically or politically. The aggression will make them pay dearly, and they are not really interested in what happens to Venezuela. Also, the showdown will only make matters messier and no one wants another Afghanistan.

We should get to know what happens next in a matter of time, given the amount of urgency that’s been shown on both the fronts. For the Venezuelans, it is a choice between the lesser and bigger evil, and one cannot know which is which. But the truth is that people are suffering and the world community, as usual, is playing the power game that it so dearly loves. What hasn’t changed is that human lives and their conditions are all being overlooked. In this day and age, power is dear to all. Thus, all try to hold on strongly to their power. All rationale aside, this situation begs the question of where power truly lies. Is the US way of military supremacy a better method than the Chinese methodical hegemony or not? Recognizing Juan Guaido as the interim President has already started a massive uprising, and we are yet to see if this intervention in Venezuela starts a civil war or not.


Atreyi Bhaumik

I am a student in Delhi University, pursuing bachelors in Economics. I also have a keen interest in Policy and probably will explore that field in the future.

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