By Viraj Shankar
A crisis of unprecedented magnitude in Venezuela is heading towards an intense geopolitical showdown.
Since the great recession of 2008, Venezuela has been facing a severe economic crisis, leading to massive food shortages in the country. The country has become rampant with crime, poverty, disease, and hyperinflation, with the annual inflation rate now reaching a staggering 1.3 million percent. As a result, more than 2.3 million people have left, fleeing to start a new life in other countries, such as Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and even the United States.
Many analysts blame the country’s rapid decline into chaos on the administration and policies of Hugo Chavez, the former President of Venezuela. In the first years of the 21st century, Chavez’s massive social reforms resulted in a reduced income inequality rate, as well as economic prosperity for the country. However, in doing this, he made the country heavily dependent on oil exports as a means for financing social welfare programs. With the decline of oil prices, the country slowly stumbled into a state of chaos. Chavez died in 2013.
Nicolas Maduro, the now disputed incumbent president of Venezuela, succeeded Hugo Chavez as the country’s leader in 2013. Maduro won by an extremely tight margin, only 1.6 points. Since his election, the state of the country has only worsened. In response to the crisis, the US government placed economic sanctions on Venezuela in 2015. More US sanctions have been put into place since then.
In May of 2018, Maduro was re-elected as President of Venezuela, considered a direct result of opposition parties boycotting the elections. Many opposition leaders had been banned from running, while others feared imprisonment by the government.
The ongoing presidential crisis began in January, when Juan Guaidó, the main opposition party leader, declared himself interim President of Venezuela. On January 23rd, US President Donald Trump recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s president, along with Canada, and most Latin American countries. The European Union has also expressed support for Guaidó, and eventually backed him. China, Russia, and Cuba, among a few others, however, have recognized Maduro as Venezuela’s president, placing global leaders at odds.
As a result of the US’s recognition of Guaidó, Maduro announced that he was cutting diplomatic ties with the US, and gave US diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. The US has, in turn, stated that should any harm be imposed on Guaidó, Venezuela would face “significant” retaliation.
As disagreements on the legitimacy of Maduro continue, the future of Venezuela remains anyone’s guess.
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