Nicknamed “the Maduro diet” after Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro, hunger in Venezuela is one of the symptoms of their current humanitarian crisis. Once a thriving and one of the most promising economies in Latin America, and home to the world’s largest oil reserves, Venezuela’s current economy is among the worst in the world.
Approximately nine in 10 people live in poverty in the country. This accounts for about a third of Latin America’s poor people. The food security crisis and widespread poverty are the results 0f a decade-long struggle with poor governance.
The State of Hunger in Venezuela
Hunger in Venezuela has been an issue of note in recent years because, in contrast to many other countries, their crisis is a result of food scarcity and years of hyperinflation which has made the most basic needs unaffordable.
Millions have fled the country and about a third of the remaining Venezuelans face food insecurity. In fact, child stunting and overall malnutrition have increased consistently since 2014, and three out of four households are forced to adopt strategies to cope with food shortages. Typically, these strategies involve reducing the size and variety of meals.
Hyperinflation and its Causes
It all started with a land full of oil. Corruption, a struggling petrostate and an angry electorate served as the ideal scenario for socialist-populist Hugo Chavez, to be elected president in 1998. While he was well received at first, his administration began to centralize power and nationalize industries such as telecommunications, power and agriculture.
This made the economy and many government programs more dependent on the already nationalized oil industry, which would crash once again in the 2010s. Additionally, the centralization of power pulled Venezuela further from democracy into a dictatorship, which would continue after Chavez’s death through Nicolas Maduro’s presidency.
During the first years of his presidency, Maduro attempted to deal with the inherited economic struggles by printing money, which only exacerbated rising inflation. After price controls, exchange rate fixing and tax increases failed to alleviate rising prices, he printed more money again, causing exports to become more expensive, food scarcer and inflation to become hyperinflation.
These years were the beginning of the “Maduro diet” and rising food insecurity. As hyperinflation skyrocketed between 2014 and 2018, prices of basic goods and exports rose with it, making food scarce and unaffordable.
Political Instability and Its Effects
Venezuela had a problem with violence well before 2014, but with a crippled economy and a hungry population, instability increased along with hyperinflation. The government aimed to take the lead and be the provider of everything Venezuelans needed. However, the poor economy received another blow when the U.S. imposed sanctions on the oil industry, limiting the government’s food aid.
The poor international relations also affected foreign aid, when in 2019, Maduro refused about $60 million worth of humanitarian aid to address health and food insecurity, since Venezuelans aren’t “beggars.” However, 2019 also saw economic improvements after Maduro used more sustainable economic practices, such as limiting spending and relaxing foreign exchange rates.
The COVID-19 Pandemic
In 2020, however, Venezuela along with many other developing countries experienced another economic shock with the COVID-19 pandemic, which inevitably impacted hunger in Venezuela. Companies closed, remittances decreased and people lost their jobs. Unfortunately, this had effects on their ability to afford food once again.
Venezuela began to cooperate with international aid efforts again in 2021. Charities sprung back up, and Maduro signed an agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP) to provide help for 1.5 million children in Venezuela’s poorest regions.
As for the economy, the end of 2022 raised hyperinflation concerns despite a period of a more sustainable economic position due to an increase in demand for dollars, government spending and a weakening of the Bolivar due to the impacts of the pandemic.
Impact of International Efforts
According to a report from Human Rights Watch, the United Nations (U.N.) has initiated a comprehensive plan worth $762.5 million aimed at aiding 4.5 million Venezuelans who are considered the most vulnerable. The plan includes a dedicated allocation of $87.9 million to tackle the health and socio-economic repercussions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Furthermore, the WFP has implemented initiatives aimed at supporting schools in providing rations and improving their infrastructure, hygiene and food services.
While Venezuela has experienced difficult times characterized by hyperinflation and rising food insecurity, cooperation with international organizations has helped the country make some progress in recent times. There is still room for much work, especially after the pandemic’s effects, but with better fiscal practices and ongoing foreign aid interventions, there is hope for a hunger-free future.
– Gustavo Gutierrez Nidasio