The Venezuela political crisis escalates over the weekend

Once the wealthiest country in Latin America, Venezuela now faces severe food and medicine shortages caused by economic crisis.

The economic crisis follows years of what government critics consider severe economic mismanagement and corruption. Supporters of the government blame the plummeting economy on falling oil prices and international sanctions.

According to the International Money Fund, Venezuela currently has the worst inflation and economic growth in the world. As a result of this economic crisis, almost 90 percent of Venezuela’s population lives below the poverty line, with over half of families unable to meet basic food needs on a daily basis. Additionally, violence and crime are rampant, and the country now has one of the highest crime rates in the world.

Three million people have fled the country since 2014, and 2 million more are expected to flee in 2019, according to the United Nations.

Opposition to President Nicolas Maduro has been growing as the crisis worsens. At least 40 people have been killed in anti-government protests since January of this year, and nearly 700 have been arrested.

Senior international business major Santiago Vanegas said that Maduro’s government is responsible for the economic crisis.

“[Maduro] is pretty much ignorant of what he’s doing and he has been mismanaging the riches of Venezuela, and because of that, the currency is worth nothing,” Vanegas said.

Opposition within the country, as well as some international leaders, have called Maduro’s presidency illegitimate after his controversial reelection. The opposition-majority party within Venezuela known as the National Assembly declared Maduro’s reelection invalid and declared its leader, Juan Guaido, to be interim president of the country.

The U.S. and 64 other countries recognize Guaido as interim president. Guaido has called for international aid to help combat the worsening food and medicine shortages. However, Maduro denied the existence of such shortages and closed Venezuela’s border with Brazil in order to block incoming humanitarian aid.

Over the weekend of Feb. 22nd, violent clashes erupted when Maduro’s military fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a crowd of protesters at the Venezuela-Colombia border. The military was blocking aid from coming into the country while protesters attempted to get the aid over the border. Nearly 300 people were injured in the clashes.

Vanegas, who is from Colombia, said that Colombians have accepted refugees from Venezuela and attempted to get humanitarian aid over the border because of the long-standing relationship between the two countries.

“These two countries have had a relationship … and Colombia has been very generous to Venezuela,” Vanegas said.

However, Vanegas said that ultimately Maduro needs to step down from leadership, voluntarily or not.

“As long as Maduro is in power, there’s not much we can do about it,” Vanegas said.

In the days following the violence, Guaido met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Colombian President Ivan Duque to discuss strategies to resolve the crisis and get humanitarian aid to those in need.

Pence said that the recent violence at the border has only strengthened U.S. resolve to stand behind Guaido and seek an end to the conflict.

“President Trump has asked me to convey a message to him, President Guaido: we are with you, and we will be until the freedom and democracy come back,” he said.

The U.S. imposed more sanctions against Maduro’s government and plans to keep increasing sanctions throughout the next two weeks. Additionally, the U.S. has increased aid to Venezuela and neighboring countries, including Colombia, who are taking in migrants from Venezuela.

Americans who oppose the involvement of the U.S. say that U.S. sanctions only worsen the situation, and that the U.S. should practice more restraint in their foreign policy. Dr. Daniel Bennett, assistant professor of political science, said that while U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and South America hasn’t always been a positive thing, the U.S. should encourage new leadership in Venezuela.

“The United States has a sordid history of interference in Latin and South American political systems, and there are those who might look at pressure from the Trump administration as a continuation of those policies,” Bennett said. “But Maduro’s regime is oppressive and undemocratic, and has overseen one of the worst economic collapses in the world. If there is genuine support for an oppositional figure, the U.S. should be comfortable backing that figure and urging a transition of power.”

In the coming days and weeks, internal and international opposition leaders plan to increase pressure on Maduro’s government and try to find solutions to the worst economic crisis in Venezuela’s history.