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Lingering turmoil in Venezuela

“I seriously started to think about moving in 2010 when our son was about to be born. By that time about 80% of my closest friends had already moved,” Nelson (31) from Venezuela reflects. Nelson, his wife Karem (30), and their son (8) are currently residing in Tasmania, an island off the coast of Southern Australia. They moved to Australia from Venezuela, a nation that seems to be spiralling deeper and deeper into disparity, three years ago. Nelson and Karem are not alone in their decision to leave. Since 1999, when the populist regime rose to power, approximately 2 million Venezuelans have moved away and relocated; this rate is predicted to continue to increase.

At the heart of the ongoing crisis is Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro. Maduro’s party came into power in 1999, and since, the economic situation in the country has worsened to the point that many no longer see a future for themselves and their families in Venezuela. Just how dire the situation is, is quickly becoming more clear. The hyperinflation has been skyrocketing, hitting 536.2% in 2017. As if that was not bad enough, the IMF predicts the number to reach an incredible 2068.5% in 2018. The increasing hyperinflation has blown the price of consumer goods and food through the roof, leaving the population in a constant struggle to provide for themselves. The situation has sparked great resistance from the population, and the opposition forces has long accused Maduro of corruption and dictatorship. However, in response to the current nation-wide crisis, he rather claims to be the victim of an “economic war”, staged by the opposing party with help from the United States of America. 

President Maduro and President Zuma at the BRICS summit in 2014. Photo: GovernmentZA/Flickr

None the less, life has not been easy on an everyday basis for the Venezuelan people. “While we still lived in Venezuela, we could see how things [got] worse on a monthly basis. Food and services [got more expensive], and [there was] a gradual detriment of your lifestyle” Nelson recalls. “It is hard to imagine how things are now. [Our relatives] tell us that they spend a significant part of their day trying to get food at the supermarkets and all the money they earn is barely sufficient to get what they eat.” The dire situation has prompted many Venezuelans, like Nelson and Karem, to move abroad for a better life. “I feel that that is just part of the plan of the actual government. They are leaving the door open to those people who can represent an opposition to their ideals.”

Both Nelson and Karem studied biology in Venezuela. This trend of skilled labour migration, or brain drain, has been very clear. With a lacking sense of stability and positive outlook on the future, many Venezuelans look for job opportunities and education abroad. Most of Nelson’s friends have migrated to Europe or South America, with another popular destination being the United Stated of America. “I guess the language barrier plays a big role. However, most of family and especially the eldest are still in Venezuela. They feel like they don’t have enough energy [or] ambition to start from scratch again.” For the people who still reside in Venezuela, the situation is not getting any better. The rapid migration of educated people from the country will pose a challenge to Venezuela in the future, adding to already chronic problems of everything from violent crime to food shortages and basic health care.

Protests in Venezuela. Photo: Marquinam/Flickr

In an attempt to help the ever-so-crumbling economy, Maduro proudly launched the Venezuelan cryptocurrency Petro in February 2018. The price of a Petro will be the same as the current price of an oil-barrel and by a closed pre-sale Maduro is hoping to raise new foreign reserves and funds to pay off the country’s great national debt. However, as of today, approximately a month after the pre-sale launched, the full effects of Maduro’s Petro project is yet to be determined. The cryptocurrency has received mixed responses, with the Opposition forces and international monetary organizations labelling the currency as illegal. However, some Brazilian companies have nonetheless agreed to receive future payments from the Venezuelan government in Petro. The Maduro regime are the first to pursue an official national cryptocurrency, and it is safe to say that the future of the Petro is at best speculative.

The upcoming presidential election is equally hard to predict. The election was originally set to December 2018, but the snap-election was called on earlier than scheduled. Despite facing strong resistance from the opposing forces, the government pulled it ahead to April 2018. A later change of plans delayed it further to May 2018. As Maduro presented his plans for a “mega-election” in May, protests have rallied the streets, facing frequent crackdowns from the regime. Now, all seats in the governing body will be voted on, including the opposition-controlled National Assembly. Many claim that the early election is in order to ensure political dominance for his party. In the sped-up election process, opposition candidates have been banned in the upcoming election and violent clampdowns on riots and strikes has been common. Furthermore, a newly set-up “superbody” have been given the ultimate rights to rewrite Venezuela’s constitution and expand Maduro’s power.

Analysts predict different trajectories for the upcoming elections, and for the future of Venezuela. With the deepening economic crisis and his increasingly tyrannical behaviour, Maduro runs the risk of alienating his own political base. Maduro’s heavy-handed tactics, clamping free speech and violent response to opposition, might mask his deep strategic weakness. Thus, if the elections are held even slightly fair, it could be the end for the president. Another outlook is that a united opposition could lead to further increases in his repression, plunging Venezuela even closer to a full-on dictatorship. When I asked Nelson about the prospects of a solution in Venezuela, the response was bleak. “I don’t think the situation is going to change soon. This is just the beginning of a dark era for my country. They are [just] taking their masks off and starting to act as what they really are, dictators.”

Signe Josefine Davidson

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