Conditions in Venezuela continue to deteriorate at an alarming rate as the political and economic crisis that has beleaguered the nation rages on with no end in sight. If recent events are an accurate indication, the crisis is dangerously close to reaching a climax and potentially sending the nation spiraling out of control. With the world’s attention primarily focused on events in the Middle East, Ukraine and Asia, the situation in Venezuela has not received the scrutiny it deserves until lately. The current crisis did not develop overnight. An economic disaster has been encroaching upon the nation at a glacial-pace since 2013. Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s failed economic policies have played a major role in bringing about the current situation. Now it has arrived in full force and its ramifications threaten to tear Venezuela asunder.
The Venezuelan economy is suffering from a deep recession and hyperinflation. The gap between revenues and spending is widening and the nation faces a tremendous fiscal deficit. Government efforts to narrow the gap have fallen short. More money is being printed, but it is unlikely that this will be anything more than a throwaway measure. Basic goods are in short supply. Black markets have cropped up on social media, allowing citizens to barter or acquire goods at a reasonable price as the bolivar is on the verge of becoming essentially as valuable as toilet paper. Electricity and water rationing are now a part of daily life. Add to the mixture the effects of a global collapse in oil prices and it is plain to see the recipe for disaster coming to life.
Unrest is increasing across Venezuela and public opinion is moving towards the ouster of Maduro, who is now fighting for his political life. Early in May, the opposition presented a petition containing 1.8 million signatures and demanding a recall referendum to election officials. Polls suggest over 70 percent of Venezuelans want a government change. In response, Maduro has tried to lay the blame for the economic conditions on foreign agitators and ‘threats from abroad’ naming the United States specifically as the greatest agitator. Last week, he declared a new three-month state of emergency, hinting that the measures may be kept in place until 2017. Large protests have taken place in Caracas and other cities as thousands of demonstrators are calling loudly for the referendum to be granted. Spontaneous protests are becoming more common around the country.
To even the most naïve folks it is obvious Maduro is using the state of emergency to consolidate and strengthen his hold on power. Over the weekend, Venezuela held the largest military exercises in its history. Ostensibly, the maneuvers were held to show that the government can handle foreign threats, however, the exercises has also demonstrated that the government is preparing to contend with domestic threats as well. With the pressure on Maduro and his government increasing steadily, the military option remains open. Using the deteriorating situation as justification, Maduro can order the military into the streets to restore order and round up large numbers of opposition leaders. These unfortunate souls could then be branded as anything from criminals to insurgents to American-sponsored agitators. Convictions are all but assured since Maduro has reshaped the Venezuelan judicial system and installed many of his own supporters as justices.
South America has been a continent of relative stability in recent decades. This year, with a major political crisis playing out in Brazil and now Venezuela threatening to unravel, that stability might be a thing of the past very soon. Argentina and Brazil today have agreed to mediate the crisis, but it is unlikely that the two regional powers can bring Maduro and the opposition to a compromise or offer enough aid to pull Venezuela away from the brink of full blown economic disaster.