Since February 2014, the South American country of Venezuela has been experiencing an almost continuous series of protests. The protests are rooted in a growing authoritarianism in the country, disastrous economic policies of the ruling party, and rampant poverty and unemployment.
Now, according to new data from international organisations and human rights groups, Venezuela’s economic crisis has evolved into a malnutrition crisis. There have been several reports of Venezuelans dying of starvation and skipping several meals due to lack of food supplies. Additionally, thousands have fled to neighbouring countries in search of food and shelter.
The situation has become so dire that the malnutrition can be quantified by a national average – according to an annual national survey, nearly three-quarters of respondents reported losing an average of 19 pounds (more than 8 kg) in weight between 2015 and 2016.
Why are Venezuelans so angry?
- The oil price crash in 2014 led to dizzying levels of inflation and unemployment.
- The most recent trigger was the Venezuelan Supreme Court’s decision to practically dismantle the legislature – essentially, Venezuela’s Parliament – and absorb its powers. The Supreme Court is heavily tilted in favour of the Nicolás Maduro-led regime while the National Assembly is controlled by the opposition. The Court’s move was just the latest in Maduro’s slow acclimation of more and more power.
- Venezuelans took to the streets also because of the country’s high levels of urban violence, inflation, and chronic shortages of basic goods.
- The problems mainly stem from the destructive economic policies of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship.
- The main reason, therefore, is that the country is having massive economic problems, which have precipitated huge shortages in many crucial sectors of the economy, from food to healthcare.
In short, the Venezuelan crisis stems from poverty and bad economics.
Protests, which began in 2014, have not stopped. They have in fact become bigger and steadily more violent.
The majority of the protests until recently have been peaceful, consisting of demonstrations, sit-ins, and hunger strikes, though small groups of protesters have been responsible for attacks on public property, such as government buildings and public transportation.
The Venezuelan government has been widely condemned for its handling of the protests. Venezuelan authorities have reportedly gone beyond the use of rubber pellets and tear gas to instances of live ammunition use and torture of arrested protesters, according to organisations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, while the United Nations has accused the Venezuelan government of politically-motivated arrests and criminalising dissent.
Consequently, the death toll in the protests in the past month is nearing 40 – a sign of just how out-of-control the situation is. The government has defended its aggressive anti-protest actions by arguing, in part, that protesters are “using chemical weapons” – something for which there is no evidence at all, and seems improbably in every way.
No end in sight
Inflation and unemployment continue to skyrocket. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the country’s inflation is expected to rise 1,660% this year and 2,880% next year.
Shortages of food, medicine, and many basic items abound and lawlessness is on the rise in what was once the richest country in South America. Meanwhile, diseases like malaria are escalating in the country, worsening an already delicate dynamic.
Data from the latest Venezuela Living Conditions Survey (ENCOVI 2016) found around 81% of Venezuelan households are now living in income poverty. Now, with about a third of the country regularly skipping meals to make ends meet, the situation is fast deteriorating.
Government interventions to quell the unrest have spectacularly failed or aided in further escalation. An economy that was almost completely reliant on its oil reserves has been nearly destroyed because of poor planning and catastrophic policymaking.
As the unrest rises, the Venezuelan people continue to suffer, and there seems no end to the suffering.