The Fall of Venezuela

When Hugo Chavez became President of Venezuela in 1999, the idea of Latin-American socialism excited a population looking for government relief. However, 18-years later, the country has plunged into an economic and social crisis that has garnered worldwide attention and alarm.

Following Chavez’s death in 2013, Nicolas Maduro took office and failed to garner the kind of support his predecessor had due to his lack of charisma and the plummeting oil prices. Just in the past few months, the Venezuelan government has denied the people political representation and basic necessities like food.

Venezuela’s current political and economic erosion is partially the result of government directives to redistribute wealth and create overarching income equality. According to the World Bank, Venezuela has one of the lowest Gini Index figures, which measures inequality, but this statistic only suggests that there’s a majority of Venezuelans making very little money. Income equality means very little if everyone, excluding high-ranking government officials, is poor and starving.

Venezuelan immigrant Joanna Rodriguez has spoken via media outlets such as Fox Business about the crisis in her home country, and OUTSET interviewed her via phone interview for this piece.

“Venezuela has always had a big population of underprivileged or poor people, so a lot of people were attracted to what Chavez was trying to do, which was just essentially redistribution of wealth and trying to get the poor out of the slums by giving them more government aide. It kind of sounds, to me, what people are leading toward here in America when they support Bernie Sanders,” said Rodriguez. “But, they really liked him. He was a really good character, a good charismatic person, offering a lot of government aid for the people, and people go for it.”

Last month,  President Maduro ignored an election, in which 98 percent of the population against his constituent assembly in favor of the Venezuelan Constitution. A private voting technology company called Smartmatic proved that the government fabricated the National Assembly election results.

The Opposition Party in Venezuela is only growing as media attention from outlets all over the world focuses in on the government’s human rights abuses. After the fraudulent election last week, numerous countries condemned the Venezuelan government’s lack of democracy and refused to acknowledge the new assembly. This past Sunday, members of the Venezuelan military even acted against the government. More than 80 percent of Venezuelans no longer support their government and its choices.

Until recently, the situation in Venezuela has been little more than political talking points in the United States. Political organizations and politicians themselves have used Venezuela to either endorse or condemn socialism for almost 20 years.

For instance, in 2011, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote, “These days, the American dream is more apt to be realized in South America, in places such as Ecuador, Venezuela, and Argentina, where incomes are actually more equal today…” Even though this quote is from six years ago, Senator Sanders has refused to walk back his statement given recent events. On the other side of the spectrum, Republican Senator Marco Rubio has repeatedly spoken out against Venezuelan socialism, which he calls the “new Cuba.”

America can no longer see the situation in Venezuela as an opportunity to score political points. With more than one hundred people dead after Election Day and hundreds injured, Venezuela is experiencing a human rights crisis that the world cannot and should not ignore. Granted, the problem, at least from an American perspective, may have started out as socialism. That said, the governing party in Venezuela has abused those socialist ideals and corrupted the current system of government.

Vanessa Rivera, whose mother is a Venezuelan immigrant, acknowledges that this crisis goes far beyond an economic problem, and even after the death of Hugo Chavez, the situation has not improved for the Venezuelan people. OUTSET reached out to Rivera and spoke with her on the phone about her family’s personal experiences and perspective.

“And, I think that we’ve seen this happen in so many countries when a bad or non-efficient leader dies or is killed, and we think it’s going to get better, but unless there is intervention, things do get worse,” said Rivera. “…I think if America is going to be the police of the world especially out in the Middle East, they do need to be the world police for everybody, not just the people they have oil interests with.”

Thus far, the United States has passed sanctions against President Maduro, but oil sanctions are still up in the air. The United States obviously wants to send a message to the corrupt government, but gauging the cost to the Venezuelan people is crucial before further action.

Average Americans, of course, do not have the ability to sanction President Maduro or assist the Venezuelan economy, but there are ways to help everyday Venezuelans suffering under the Socialist Party. According to Rodriguez,  people should avoid GoFundMe accounts because the conversion between the U.S. Dollar and Venezuelan Bolívar is almost nonexistent. Instead, people should donate nonperishables to Venezuelan-American businesses, which will, in turn, give the items to Venezuelan churches. Also, organizations such as the Bastiat Society in Venezuela fight for social justice and lifting Venezuelans out of poverty.

The situation in Venezuela is not a talking point. It’s not the “perfect case against socialism.” Sure, we could talk all day about the failings of socialism, but, frankly, it doesn’t matter anymore. The Venezuelan experience is nothing less than a humanitarian disaster, and the entire world must treat it as such.

About Karly Matthews

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Karly Matthews grew up in a tiny Pennsylvania suburb before trading in the corn fields for the streets of North Philadelphia. Karly is a Future Female Leaders Cabinet Member and is the Deputy Communications Director for the Pennsylvania Federation of College Republicans. On campus, Karly is involved with the Temple University College Republicans and serves as the President for the Network of Enlightened Women at Temple. Currently a sophomore, Karly is studying journalism and political science with a minor in Spanish.