Venezuela has been in a state of prolonged crisis and it seems to be poised on the edge of a total political and economical collapse. It is going through the world’s deepest recession. Inflation is sky high, consumer goods have disappeared from market shelves and violent crime is soaring.
Venezuelans have been dogged for the last 3 years by the non availability of basic foods, goods, essential medicines; by electricity and water rationing, sky high inflation and rising crime. They are frustrated and angry and small spurts of rebellion are occurring regularly.
There were 2,138 protests between January and April, most of them spontaneous expressions of pent up anger or frustration against food shortages and the general state of things.
The country is in a bad shape economically right now and the condition is expected to further fall this year. According to a January estimate from the IMF, inflation is expected to rise from a world high of 275% in 2015 to a mind-blowing 720% in 2016. The gross domestic product fell by 5.7% in 2015, and IMF figures suggest that it will fall by 8% in 2016.
The country is also facing a debt crisis. The state-owned oil company PDVSA faces a $1.3 billion debt payment in October and an additional $2.9 billion one in November.
In a sample of the state of things in the country, Coca-Cola, has been forced to halt production of its beverage because of a shortage of sugar. The company is the latest victim of shortages in the country, caused by a chaotic exchange rate. Last month, Empresas Polar, the largest food and beverage company in the country, was forced to stop the production of beer because of the scarcity of another imported product, barley.
The Venezuelan healthcare system is also in an alarming state. Basic medicines are not being imported, infant mortality rate is high. Things are so bad that doctors are working without gloves and soaps and antiseptics.
Electricity production is so low that government workers now only work two days a week.
To further add to the woes of the common Venezuelan citizen there is a rise in the number of criminal gangs. Last year, Caracas won the dubious distinction of being the world’s most dangerous city. The cause of increased violence has been poverty, and also the government’s apathy to managing the violence.
The situation is grim at the moment and any minute could collapse totally. Food riots and looting could break out as public frustration has reached new heights. There could be violent clashes between demonstrators and armed civilian groups of government supporters (known as colectivos), the national guard and the secret police SEBIN in black uniforms.
Opposition might win control even as protests grow over the incarceration of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and others arrested in 2015.
Meanwhile, the present govt is readying itself to use ever forceful means to suppress these demonstrations.
On May 18, protesters unsuccessfully tried to march to the offices of the CNE National Electoral Council to petition the removal of Maduro as President. Tear gas was used to disperse crowds and many were wounded in the process.
On May 18, President Nicolás Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency, with “a state of internal commotion”. He claimed there were plots from within Venezuela and from the United States to undermine his authority. The state of emergency gives him the right to let the army control the production and distribution of food, and would also allow him to impose something like military rule in the country.
President Maduro says military exercises will begin this week in response to “trouble makers” in the country, and he’s also planning to seize closed factories and arrest employees. The opposition have termed the decree an “auto-golpe” – self-coup – and a “tipping point” in the country’s crisis.
Madura regularly blames the US for all his country’s woes. He says that the US is waging an economic war against his country and is plotting to overthrow his rule. He went so far as to accuse the head of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, of being a CIA agent. Former Uruguayan president, José Mujica, declared that President Maduro was “loco, loco como una cabra” [crazy, crazy like a goat].
Many in the opposition think that Madura is using the crisis as an excuse to suspend democracy and implement military rule. Mr Maduro has already said that he could continue to govern without regard to the opposition controlled National Assembly. “It is a matter of time before it disappears,” he had said at a press conference on May 17.