Imagine your entire life savings being wiped out? Imagine having to spend half your weekly wages to afford a loaf of bread? Imagine in a time of crisis your leader not letting humanitarian aid into your country? Unfortunately, this is the reality for the people of Venezuela today. Due to hyperinflation, their currency, the Venezuelan bolivar, is effectively worthless. In January 2019 annual inflation jumped to over 2.69 million percent. This has been an ongoing problem since 2010 when the country entered an economic crisis. The result of this is an increase in poverty and inequality and a decrease in living standards. As a consequence, there has been mass migration by Venezuelans; most of whom have fled to Colombia.
Nicolás Maduro has been the Venezuelan President since 2013, but moreover, he is currently the country’s de facto dictator. Having served as Vice President, Maduro came to power after the death of his predecessor Hugo Chávez. After the election which saw him seize power, opposition leaders immediately claimed that the election was a fraud. However, they failed to provide any substantial evidence supporting their claims. Maduro has attracted a lot of international pressure calling for him to either step down as President or call another election, with many world leaders calling him an illegitimate President. Maduro favours left-wing politics and completed a number of ‘training sessions’ in Cuba wherein he garnered many of his political views. He used the country’s vast oil reserves (90% of the government’s foreign revenue comes from oil production) to fund his social policies, but the quantity of oil produced was not high enough to fund Maduro’s policies as the countries income is vastly outweighed by the countries overambitious social programmes. This underfunding coupled with the economic crisis led Maduro’s Venezuela into poverty and provided the perfect breeding grounds for hyperinflation.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself ‘interim president’ on the 23rd of January and since then over 50 countries – including Spain, France and the United States – have recognised him as the official president of Venezuela. Guaidó has been on the political scene in Venezuela since 2007 and was first elected to government in 2015. The 35-year-old who is a member of the Popular Will party has unified the opposition in trying to unseat the incumbent Maduro, and he is currently the head of the opposition-held parliament. After his initial claim to the presidency he was briefly detained highlighting not only how precarious the road that lies before Guaidó is, but also the ubiquity of Maduro’s existing dictatorship. It is unclear what Ireland’s position is concerning whom they support as president of Venezuela however two members of Sinn Féin did attend the inauguration of Maduro in 2013. This came under criticism by a number of politicians and members of the public, it is likely Ireland will take the same stance as the European Union.
It is presently unclear whether Maduro will be unseated as the country appears to be in political gridlock. Maduro is still backed by his grassroots supporters, by both Russia and China among other countries, and the Venezuelan military. That said if the military breaks rank in support of Guaidó that would likely cripple Maduro’s rule leaving him highly vulnerable to mutiny. However, it is unlikely the military will turn their collective back on the incumbent because as his supporters they enjoy economic and political influence in the country.
Donald Trump has publicly condemned Maduro and seized Venezuelan oil assets in the US. Guaidó has not ruled out a possible US military intervention, it is unclear how such an intervention would unfold but it appears to be the last resort for Guaidó. He has claimed that if such an intervention went ahead it would not be like other US involvements that have scarred Latin America in the past such as in Panama, Cuba and El Salvador. However, he cannot guarantee that US involvement would be successful.
Co-ordinated efforts have been made attempting to bring aid into Venezuela through Colombia however, Maduro refuses to let these much-needed resources enter saying that Venezuela is not a country of “beggars”. Furthermore, he has gone so far as to claim that this is cover for a US-invasion and thus has called for strengthened border security. Maduro has already closed the Brazilian border and is threatening to close the Colombian border as well. Regardless of whom you view as the Venezuelan President, it is an indisputable fact that these resources are urgently needed by the impoverished people of Venezuela.
Virgin Group founder and billionaire Richard Branson have announced plans to organise a concert akin to Bob Geldof’s ‘Live Aid’ to raise funds for humanitarian aid for Venezuela; through the course of which he hopes to raise over $100 million. The concert is to be held in Cucuta (a Colombian city close to the Venezuelan border) and up to 300,000 people are predicted to attend. In response, Maduro’s government have decided to host a rival three-day concert in Venezuela. Both concerts are being held close to the Venezuelan/Colombian border and as such there are real concerns by the local public that there may be a hostile backlash from Maduro or by Colombians own guerrilla force who support Maduro during the concert.
In the coming weeks and months, we will see the political landscape of Venezuela continue to face serious turbulence. Hopefully, the country can move forward in a democratic and peaceful fashion but only time will reveal what is yet in store for the people of Venezuelan.
By Sean Cullen – Politics CoEditor