As a student in amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, my classmates and I were tasked with filling the spare time we had by adjusting to online learning. Ever since summer has started, however, (it is hardly distinguishable between the other four months spent at home, may I add), I have been tasked with balancing my curiosity, restlessness, newfound inert nature developed over quarantine yet wish to be productive. To this effect, my family suggested reading articles published by The Economist. I hadn’t realized how chaotic news channels were, with the Breaking News headlines (mainly dealing with news of their own country), with flashy transitions and blaring colours. After watching such broadcasting , I found I could appreciate the unbiased, reality-based writing of this magazine.
Reading The Economist showed me that I was not as globally-aware as I should be given the availability of such literature. An overwhelmingly large percentage of these articles were detailing news that I hadn’t seen a glimpse of anywhere else. Stories of economic downfall, authoritarian dictatorship and suffering were written of just as much as innovation, world “wins”, and progress. This week, I wanted to write about a topic that I have learned from reading these articles. So, I wanted to write about another country whose struggles seem to pale in comparison to the current pandemic like last week’s.
They are going through one of the worst economic downfalls of recorded history. Since the Coronavirus hit, the suffering has only spiralled into higher chaos as the citizens of this nation brace for more political, social and socio-economic fallout.
This journey all began in 1999, when Hugo Chavez became president of Venezuela. By the time Mr. Chavez took office, Venezuelan oil prices were dropping and about half of their citizens were living below the poverty line. Now, as history has shown in times of need, citizens of a declining nation tend to be strayed from traditional party rulings. For example, Germany in 1933 became so ravished with the debt from World War One and the Great Depression that its citizens decided to stray from their traditional voting and turned to Adolf Hitler. Sadly, we saw the same happen in Venezuala. Mr. Chavez pledged to rewrite the Venezuelan constitution, signalling hope for a new start and better life for its people. However, his intentions as soon as he entered office became clear: to stay in power for as long as possible. His new constitution give citizens nothing, and provided Mr. Chavez with more executive power and placed many of his political allies on the seats of the national court. All policies to follow appealed to populist ideals while his influence over the country grew.
By 2011, Mr. Chavez had been diagnosed with cancer. By the time he had unfortunately succumbed to his battle against the disease, Mr. Chavez had made a wreck of Venezuela. The economy was estimated to be shrinking by 15% every year. Then, came President Nicholas Maduro. Mr. Maduro followed well in the footsteps of Mr. Chavez in his first term of presidency after a particularly close win. In May 2018, however, with Mr. Maduro’s victory over a second six year term, the world cried foul. Many noted the strangely large amount of opposition parties who had dropped out of the race. In reality, opposition candidate had bee barred from running for president while others were forced to flee the country. Mr. Maduro’s supposed victory was therefore not recognized by the opposition-led National Assembly, which claimed that the presidency was vacant.
So where are the people, amidst this wreck of politics? Starving, fleeing and suffering. Just when reform seemed to be given to them, it was taken away in the form of a dictator. Political power is everything to Mr. Maduro, but regard for his own people seems to have diminished the minute he set foot in his office. An estimated 5 million Venezuelans have fled the country due to uncontrolled hyperinflation. According to Bloomberg, who has been tracking the price of a cup of coffee in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas, the price has risen about 9 900% in the past year. And with no end in sight, the only viable option the people see is to leave all they have (ironically in most cases, nothing) behind to seek a better life.
Morally, anyone knows this to be wrong. But how did the people of Venezuela end up with such leaders who have wrecked havoc in their home? Desperation. When people become so overwhelmed in the harsh reality of the situation at hand, we all tend to disregard the problem itself and attempt to fix the “stem” of the problem by overhauling all progress. Hyperinflation and decreasing demand in oil served this purpose, just as astounding debt numbers in Germany had done the same. In desperate times, we wish to run away. And now, with an even larger crisis at hand, the people of Venezuela are literally doing so. But those choosing to stay in their homeland remain hopeful that after their years of suffering, they will be able to witness the rebirth of their once cherished homeland and see better days ahead. Stay hopeful, Venezuela.