Venezuela was once a rich and stable country. Over the last few decades, Venezuela has fallen into financial and governmental trouble. In 1989, when rioting and looting polluted the streets due to increased petroleum prices, Venezuela began a spiral into debt. When Hugo Chávez became president in 1998, citizens became optimistic as he funded money into programs to assist the poor. Unfortunately, mismanagement allowed problems to persist. Within the last decade, poverty rates have risen dramatically. Here are 10 facts about poverty in Venezuela.
10 Facts About Poverty in Venezuela
- The economy has created a nationwide crisis. As Venezuela’s economy collapses many programs are collapsing with it. The country is experiencing hyperinflation. Over the past three years, the annual inflation rate is 10,398%. Hyperinflation in Venezuela has increased the number of people living in severe poverty and barely surviving from day to day. A national survey in 2017 found that 87% of families live below the poverty line.
- The government retains full control of the economy. Since 1989, the Venezuelan government has retained full control of the economy. In 2003, the government introduced price and currency controls and it became the sole provider of bolivars. As a result, funds denied businesses access and banks could only assist specific organizations. Additionally, companies had to sell products below production costs and close stores, which caused a supply shortage and negatively affected the economy.
- Government information is experiencing censorship. Journalists, lawyers and medical professionals experienced detainment and imprisonment for exposing the poor conditions of their country. Although the poverty Venezuelans face is no secret, censorship hides the depths of governmental and economic corruption, thus reducing the level of support that other countries offer. Venezuela ranked 173 out of 180 countries that Transparency International’s 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index assessed for corruption. The lower the ranking, the more corruption in the government.
- Venezuela is experiencing a split government. In May 2018, Nicolás Maduro, the incumbent president of Venezuela, “won” disputed re-election against Juan Guaidó, leader of the National Assembly. By the following June, the Organization of American States recognized Guaidó as President; Guaidó subsequently declared himself president on January 23, 2019. Blame for the free-fall of the economy lands on Maduro, but he holds all the military and refuses to relinquish power. Recognized by 50 other countries, Guaidó does not hold much authority on his own. As more becomes clear about the corruption that Venezuela experiences, Guaidó receives more assistance from other countries to help his people.
- Food and water shortages are at an all-time high. Since 2017, nearly two-thirds of Venezuelans reported losing an average of 25 pounds in the previous year; they refer to this as the “Maduro-diet” due to food and water shortages. These shortages have peaked with the COVID-19 emergency. Venezuela has 4,187 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 35 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. PAHO and UNICEF have provided relief by supplying medical equipment and COVID-19 tests and the U.N. has since stepped in to provide funds. When the global pandemic began, hospitals quickly found it difficult to care for patients while lacking running water. Additionally, sanctions that the U.S. put into place made access to food more difficult.
- Venezuela is experiencing medical shortages. Fernando Gomez is a 54-year-old man living in Venezuela. In an interview with The New Humanitarian Gomez said, “The government says wear masks, wash your hands often, and stay inside… but we don’t have water, we often don’t have electricity, and there are no masks.” Even before the pandemic, diseases such as measles, diphtheria and malaria rose. While proven vaccines and antibiotics exist for these diseases, shortages have led to high mortality rates from these illnesses. In the last five years, there also have been significant shortages of medical personnel and supplies, leaving Venezuela’s population at greater risk. PAHO, UNICEF and the U.N. are doing what they can to assist.
- Venezuela’s oil industry is collapsing. Petroleum was once a significant part of the Venezuelan economy; now it suffers from oil shortages at great cost to its people. Marcia Briggs, a reporter for Pulitzercenter.org, spent a day at a local Venezuelan gas station. The line stretched for miles and people would wait a day or more for fuel. Spending time in line means not working and earning wages. In 1998, the country produced 3.5 million barrels of oil a day but in 2002, when Petróleos De Venezuela went on strike against Chávez, he fired 19,000 workers. Since 2007, production has decreased dramatically and reached an all-time low in 2019.
- Although the minimum wage in Venezuela increased in 2020, it remains below a survivable level. In January 2020, Maduro increased the minimum wage from 300,000 bolivars an hour to 450,000 per hour; the equivalent of $5.45. In April 2020, Maduro decided to increase the wage again by 77.7%. The minimum wage currently sits at 800,000 bolivars ($4.60). It is “only enough to buy just over a kilo of beef.” As the minimum wage continues increasing, there is hope that it will soon reach a survivable level.
- Venezuela experiences a lack of education. The education system has lost thousands of teachers due to underfunding. Some children are so malnourished that they lack the necessary energy to attend school. Other families lack the funds to pay for transportation to classes. U.N. experts say that an uneducated future will do nothing but perpetuate the crisis the country faces. Education is free, although finding enough people to direct the students’ education is a problem with no current solution.
- Venezuelans continue to flee their country. All of these problems have led to Venezuelans fleeing the country in hopes of a better future. There have been roughly 5 million migrants from Venezuela. Fleeing the country gives the migrants a better chance at survival but worsens the situation in their home country. Essential jobs that lack workers now have even fewer available people. Citizens who remain in Venezuela say they no longer feel safe in their country and they have lost all hope and trust in officials to fix the crisis.
Although poverty, corruption and violence have been the narrative of Venezuela for the last few decades, hope still exists that the tide will turn. In the time of a government battle, citizens now have more than two options. It used to be that either Maduro needed to leave or they did. However, now a third option exists, which is to replace Maduro with President Guaidó.
Fortunately, there are many groups assisting with child security, food and water relief, education and poverty in Venezuela. These continued efforts will hopefully impact poverty in Venezuela significantly.
– Marlee Ingram