In the ongoing political standoff over Venezuela’s future, it is easy to forget that years of inept policies have led to a tragic, yet entirely preventable humanitarian crisis in what should be one of the wealthiest, most prosperous Latin American nations.
According to some estimates, up to three million Venezuelans have already left their homes to find refuge in neighbouring countries like Colombia and Peru. Yet more than 30 million of their compatriots still remain inside Venezuela, and their situation gets worse every day. This is a crisis of such enormous proportions that nearly every Venezuelan is affected, with the exception of the very small elite in charge. Food supplies are dwindling. Public and commercial infrastructure is shutting down and falling into disrepair. The health system is crumbling, unable to deliver essential services to those who need them most. Already, half of all x-ray machines are out of service. Doctors report frequent power outages as electricity generation capacity breaks down.
Hyperinflation has been making things worse. Venezuelan money is rapidly losing value. As Bloomberg reported in December, the price of a cup of coffee in Caracas rose by nearly 286,000 percent in just a year. In December 2018, it cost 400 bolivars. For comparison, Venezuela’s monthly minimum wage is only 4,800 bolivars, or £7.40.
Across the board, prices have gone up so dramatically that nearly 90 percent of the population say they have no money to buy food. As a result, most Venezuelans report extreme weight loss over the last few years. Some observers predict that malnutrition will only get worse in the coming weeks and months.
At Venezuela’s borders, particularly with Columbia, the picture is grim, too. Cucutua, one of Colombia’s largest cities and the main point of entry along the border, is overflowing with Venezuelan refugees. At the Simon Bolivar International Bridge across the Tachira River, there are now up to 50,000 border crossings per day, and thousands of those who make the journey will not be going back. Colombia has been generous in welcoming its neighbours, but its capacity to deal with the influx and provide essential services has reached its limit.
The greatest problem is that President Maduro, still backed by powers like Cuba, China and Russia, has so far refused to acknowledge the existence of a humanitarian crisis. As a result, aid organisations, ready to help, are barred from entering the country. Those few that have already had a presence in Venezuela are constantly harassed and hindered. Some suggest that Maduro fears such an acknowledgement would open the door to foreign intervention. But as ordinary Venezuelans are suffering, there is no time for regime paranoia. Maduro must acknowledge now that his country is in crisis. If he can no longer support his own population, he must allow those ready and trained to do so to step in.