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Maduro_Venezuela
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro currently faces a referendum for his removal from office. Last Thursday, 15 nations from the Organization of American States (OAS) called for procedures to begin after an earlier meeting where they discussed Venezuela’s possible suspension from the OAS. The question is now, will Maduro’s removal actually benefit the poor in Venezuela?

Maduro’s Struggles

In May, President Maduro declared a 60-day state of emergency in response to growing food and medicine shortages. A monthly food basket in his country now costs 14 times more than the average monthly income at minimum wage.

Maduro’s predicament is partly inherited from his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Until his death in 2013, Chavez had used oil revenues to fund large-scale social programs in healthcare, housing, food and education.

However, by doing so Chavez sacrificed the economic diversity that might have helped sustain the country’s fight against poverty.

Chavez and Poverty Reduction

Chavez achieved several milestones for the poor in Venezuela. From 1999 to 2011, extreme poverty fell from 23.4 to 8.5%. GDP per capita was increased more than twofold (from $4,105 to $10,810), and unemployment was cut in half (14.5 to 7.6%).

Chavez also dismissed more than one-third of Petróleos de Venezuela’s (PDVSA) technical specialists for less skilled but loyal supporters.

The price controls Chavez implemented to protect the poor from high food and healthcare costs are now returning to haunt the country. With smaller margins for profit, industries have cut back on production, leading to a shortage of goods and an ever-higher dependency on imports.

For example, the Venezuelan Pharmaceutical Federation announced in April that it suffers an 80% deficit in basic medicines. The IMF has also forecasted a 720% increase in general prices this year, with another 2,200% spike expected in 2017.

Still Not Enough

All of this makes the Venezuelan people hungry — and not just for political change. A study by Simon Bolivar University in Caracas has shown that up to 87% of the population cannot afford the food it needs. This is no surprise, when a staggering 72% of monthly wages are spent on food alone.

Also, violence is on the rise. Venezuela’s murder rate has risen from 25 per 100,000 in 2009 to 45.1 in 2011 — higher than Columbia and Mexico. Though there is no significant presence of drug cartels, leftist political violence is targeting citizens with opposition views.

The violence occurs regardless of social class. One professor assaulted on a Caracas bus commented that, “it wasn’t rich people riding on the bus — it was poor people trying to get home from work.”

How the US Can Help

Nevertheless, the U.S. is still Venezuela’s largest trading partner. Among its imports are refined crude oil, ethers, soybeans, and an array of machinery and technology. A total of $10.1 billion in imports was recorded in 2014.

Venezuela is, therefore, a country to watch for humanitarian aid. In June, Secretary of State John Kerry announced a dialog to ease tensions with Maduro’s opposition, including a vote against the suspension proposed by OAS.

Humanitarian aid may be one way the U.S. can help end the crisis in Venezuela while promoting democratic governance. But only time will tell if Maduro’s removal will favor the poor in Venezuela.

Alfredo Cumerma

Photo: Flickr

venezuelan poverty
On July 30, the U.S. State Department announced sanctions on visas for officials in President Maduro’s Venezuelan government. The sanctions came as a response to human rights abuses sustained by peaceful opposition protestors objecting to a recent rise in Venezuelan poverty.

“Today’s announcement sends an unambiguous and direct message to President Maduro,” says Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Menendez has authored a bill called the Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014. This bill would require heavier sanctions on individuals who have committed human rights abuses towards the demonstrators in Venezuela.

“Human Rights Watch has documented more than 40 deaths, 50 cases of torture, and over 2,000 unlawful detentions,” Menendez says in regard to the recent demonstrations.

Since February, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest of President Maduro’s policies, which have sent the country into a political and economic crisis.

When Hugo Chavez took over the Venezuelan political system in 1998, he did so with the promise that the people would prosper under his government. From 2003 to 2007, the Chavista government seemed to working for the people, as Venezuelan poverty rates dropped. When Nicolas Maduro took over after Chavez’s death in 2013, he swore to stay true to Chavista policies.

However, recently the trend has reversed. A report released by Venezuela’s official statistics office admits that one in three Venezuelans are poor, a decline from a year ago when only one in four were poor.

The statistics for extreme Venezuelan poverty are worse. The office estimates that 10 percent of the population does not make enough money to afford basic food and drink.

“The sharp fall in the standard of living is what brought protestors to Venezuela’s streets,” reports Foreign Policy.

The protestors were peaceful, but the government’s reaction was not.

“The United States will never tolerate systemic human rights violations conducted by a merciless government against its own people,” says Menendez.

Congress had reportedly been considering a similar move against Venezuela since March of this year, but the State Department acted first. This is in spite of earlier claims by the Obama Administration that any sanctions against Venezuela would allow its government to rally support and use the U.S. as a scapegoat.

The sanctions deny a list of 24 high-ranking officials of President Maduro’s government from entering the U.S.

Elias Jaua is the Venezuelan Foreign Minister. He calls the sanctions, “desperate,” and warns against a possible backlash.

Julianne O’Connor

Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC, The Globe and Mail, U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
Photo: BBC

Since February 2014, Venezuelan protests against the government have been flaring throughout the country. Two Venezuelan politicians, Daniel Ceballos of San Cristobal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego, were placed in jail due to these protests and their clear defiance of President Nicolas Maduro. A State Department official stated that the arrests of these men solely based on their opposition exemplifies that Maduro’s government “continues to persecute political opponents.”

Maduro won the Presidential election in April 2013, but by a very narrow marigin, seeing as Venezuela is notoriously divided into those in favor of the late Hugo Chavez, whose policies are closely followed by Maduro, and those who strongly oppose him.

The new president has been running the country with the same socialist style that Chavez did, but with an increasingly high inflation rate, power cuts and lack of certain staple foods. As a result, defiance against Maduro and his government have been increasing.

Although the President is attempting to keep the opposition down, the wives of the imprisoned mayors continued the fight by running as mayors in their husbands’ places. On May 25, they both won in a landslide, making their constituents’ support clear.

Daniel Ceballos, former mayor of San Cristobal where the protests began, was given a 12-month sentence for civil rebellion and conspiracy after he did not follow an order to halt the protests going on in the city. His wife, Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, won the election for mayor with 73 percent of the votes. About the election, the newly elected mayor states:

“They have converted me into mayor and ratified Daniel Ceballos as mayor. And today, San Cristobal has the privilege of having two mayors governing its city.”

She also said that each ballot cast for her represented a sentence of justice and freedom, as well as a blow against “the dictatorship” of Venezuela.

The other imprisoned politician, Enzo Scarano, was placed in jail for a 10-month sentence for his failure to comply with a previous order from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to take down the barricades in San Diego, in the state Carabobo. Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano, wife of Scarano and former City Council Member of San Diego, won about 88 percent of the votes on May 25.

“The people will remain peacefully in the streets, making people listen, so that it echoes throughout the world that Venezuela right now is going through a very difficult time, economically, socially, morally and politically,” she stated after the election.

On the bright side, the fact that these women were clearly a part of the opposition and won with an overwhelming majority of the votes shows that the elections can be impartial and fair.

The concerning portion of all of this is President Maduro’s possible reaction if the protests continue. He has described the protesters as “fascists and extreme-right thugs” who are attempting to destabilize the government for a coup. As far as future action, he states, “If they go crazy and start burning the municipality again, the authorities will act … and elections will be called every three months, until there is peace.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post, BBC
Photo: Panorama

venezuelan government
After weeks of Venezuelan protests in February, U.S. Senators are calling for sanctions to be placed upon Venezuelan government officials for their violent responses to the peaceful protests.

A Senate resolution proposing investigations and sanctions placed upon human rights violators in Venezuela was introduced in the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 27. Chairman Robert Menendez and Senator Marco Rubio were instrumental addressing the situation in Venezuela as they assert, “The (U.S.) should condemn Venezuela’s government for violently suppressing protests, and it should slap individual sanctions on mid and top-level officials associated with the regime in Caracas.”

The resolution also urges U.S. President Barack Obama to impose individual sanctions on government officials by denying or revoking visas, freezing their American assets and encouraging a process of dialogue between the Venezuelan government and opposition. The protests in Venezuela stand eerily similar to those in Ukraine and the United States government has responded similarly in both cases, which is to support peaceful resolutions and government accountability.

So far, the youth population and students have made up a substantial amount of protesters and have employed peaceful tactics to air their grievances against the Venezuelan government. Much of their unrest stems from poor economic policies that have resulted in “inflation that exceeds 50% annually, currency shortages, economic distortions, and the routine absence basic goods and foodstuffs.”

After two weeks of widespread protest, clashes between government and opposition forces have resulted in 14 deaths. In an effort to dissipate the movement, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro granted a six-day holiday to the people of Venezuela. Regardless, the protests have continued with several thousand demonstrators marching in Caracas on February 27. The National Guard responded to the protests in Caracas by implementing tear gas and water cannons to break up the march.

The situation in Venezuela has been riddled with human rights violations—as asserted by the international community—where people have been deprived of basic political rights and individual freedoms. In addition to resorting to violence to break up protests, the Venezuelan government has tried to censor media outlets covering the demonstrations. Thus far, Maduro has threatened to expel U.S. news correspondents from CNN, blocked online images of protests and censored domestic media outlets.

The resolution proposed by Robert Menendez and Marco Rubio aims to put an end to human rights violations and allow for the Venezuelan people to retain their individual liberties in living free and democratically.

Jugal Patel

Sources: Buenos Aires Herald, Latin American Herald Tribune, Bloomberg
Photo: International Business Times

Protests in Venezuela
Months of goods shortages, allegations of corruption, a sky-high inflation rate of 56.2 percent and rising crime have left thousands of Venezuelans dissatisfied with the government of Nicolás Maduro, the successor of the late Hugo Chávez of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, (PSUV.) This dissatisfaction culminated in violent protests in Venezuela against the Maduro administration that took place in many large cities across Venezuela, including the cities of Maracaibo and Caracas, the capital.

On Thursday, three protesters were killed and dozens more were injured in clashes between the disgruntled and disaffected youth and the police and troops from the National Guard. Around 1,000 protesters lit bonfires and blockaded the streets in an effort to draw attention to their demands. It is relatively unclear what the protesters want, however. Some are calling for Maduro to resign; others simply want an end to the uptick in the crime rate.

In an effort to quell the protests, on Saturday Maduro called for a “ban” on further protests and prohibited media coverage of the protests. After promoting a position of “peace and tolerance,” Maduro denounced the protesters as “fascists” who sought to overthrow the government. He further attempted to maintain his grasp on his power by suggesting that “the people are in power.”

One leader of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez tweeted support for non-violent protests, and addressed Maduro in a message in which he called the president “a coward…who cannot make me or my family submit to you.”

Proponents of the peaceful protests in Venezuela have stated that government-sponsored motorcycle gangs known as colectivos seek to incite further violence in order to thwart the legitimacy of the movement. Since Wednesday, 99 people have been arrested and released, with 13 remaining in jail.

Maduro has found it increasingly difficult to continue riding the wave of the Chavista movement following the death of Hugo Chávez in March of last year. After narrowly winning a presidential election in April 2013 that the center-right opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, denounced as fraudulent, Maduro has struggled to appear as a legitimate successor to the charismatic Chávez. As such, he has blamed the opposition movement for the country’s economic woes, which includes a high inflation rate and a shortage of basic goods such as toilet paper.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: Reuters, The Daily Beast, Reuters, AlJazeera, BBC
Photo: Tempo

venezuela_slashing_prices_inflation
The inflation in Venezuela has caused significant social turmoil. In September, after the toilet paper shortage, which was preceded by food shortages and electricity blackouts, an occupation of the Paper Manufacturing Company took place.

Troops were sent to monitor “fair” distribution of available stock. Earlier in November, President Nicolas Maduro jailed electronic vendors whom he accused of price-gouging, stating that this was only the beginning of what he was willing to do to protect his people. He has expanded this occupation to a variety of goods stores.

The inflation also led to the handing out of Christmas bonuses in November. While many saw this as political theater meant to sway people’s votes just prior to the December elections, it was thought necessary by some in a country with a 54% inflation rate. It is this climate that necessitates paychecks being distributed prior to prices having time to rise.

Like Chavez, Maduro has blamed speculators and the “parasitic bourgeoisie” however, his accusations will not be able to stop the collapse of the economy especially given the continued monetary expansion and debilitating price controls. Furthermore, his emergency measures might be too late given that Venezuela has been in steady economic decline since Hugo Chavez instituted his trademark socialism in Venezuela.
The nation has a massive social spending program, and when one combines this with costly prices and labor controls along with an ambitious foreign aid strategy, the oil revenues that have been keeping Venezuela afloat no longer seem to be enough.
Mari Sahakyan

Sources: Wall Street Journal, Market Place, National Post, Market Oracle, Trading Economics

isler_miss_universe
Last week, Venezuelan Gabriela Isler became the sixty-second Miss Universe. The twenty-five-year old won the title during the greatest economic downturn in her country’s history.

Venezuela possesses the largest known oil reserves in the world but nearly 60 percent of its population is considered poor. Inflation continues to plague the country, rising to over 50 percent in the last year alone. And the current exchange rate has fallen to 6.3 bolivars for each U.S. dollar.

In an effort to combat the economy, President Nicolás Maduro mandated that prices be lowered in stores around the country. The mandate is the result of the government’s recent decision to grant Maduro power to rule by decree without legislative support.

Moreover, the country’s national debt has increased in recent years. Recent figures estimate that Venezuelan business owners owe between $700 million and $1.2 billion to their Panamanian suppliers.

In spite of its economic woes, Venezuela has continued to lend support and resources to maintain its participation in the Miss Universe pageant. Isler became the seventh Venezuelan to win the coveted title on November 9.

Along with the other contestants, Isler stayed at the Crowne Plaza World Trade Centre in Moscow whose accommodations cost between 6,500 to 95,000 rubles or $197 to $2,900 USD per night. Several candidates arrived as early as October 21 to prepare for the event.

The 86 participants also enjoyed products from a variety of luxury sponsors including IMAGE skincare, Yamamay swimsuits and Chinese Laundry shoes.

As the newest Miss Universe, Isler was asked to unveil a $1 million swimsuit designed by Yamamay for the occasion.

– Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: The Guardian, BBC, IB Times, Miss Universe