It was once Latin America’s richest country with a relatively peaceful democratic government, a beacon of prosperity and freedom in a region ruled by military juntas. Now, Venezuela is suffering through one of the greatest economic and political crises in recent history.
Sitting on the largest proven oil reserve in the world, late-President Hugo Chávez utilized revenue from oil sales to implement socialist programs. However, he also grossly mismanaged Venezuela’s economy by fixing market prices, providing subsidized oil to countries such as Cuba, and nationalizing farmlands then abandoning agricultural production on them in favor of reliance on oil revenue.
In 2014, oil prices started to plummet due to a glut in global production, striking a devastating blow to Venezuela’s economy as it could no longer sustain the high levels of spending on its shortsighted social programs. Now a phenomenon known as “hyperinflation” is running rampant. The inflation rate was 1.3 million percent in 2018 and the International Monetary Fund has estimated that it could be as high as 10 million percent for 2019. This has dramatically devalued the country’s currency, the bolivar, making it almost impossible for everyday citizens to afford basic needs.
Indeed, prices of goods and services, such as food and toiletries, now double an average of every 19 days. This has led to families being forced to skip meals and malnutrition, especially among children. Nearly three quarters of Venezuelans report having lost weight, an average of 19 pounds, and child mortality is up an astonishing 140%.
The dire economic situation has resulted in the political turmoil that has roiled the country for the last year. Nicolás Maduro, the protege and handpicked successor of Chávez, has made moves to consolidate his tyrannical rule. In May 2018, the government conducted a bogus “election” that saw Maduro reelected only after he barred opposition parties from participating, actively coerced voters, ensured the electoral council was dominated by allies, and refused to allow for international election observers.
In January, the National Assembly, the last democratically elected national institution in Venezuela, deemed the office of president to be vacant at the end of Maduro’s term due to the widespread fraud surrounding his reelection. The leader of the National Assembly, Juan Guaidó, was then sworn in as acting president on January 23, and the United States led a robust coalition of more than 50 countries in Latin America and around the world in recognizing Guaidó as the lawful interim president of Venezuela.
Nicolás Maduro, who remains in power only because of blatant interference by Russia and Cuba, is an aspiring tyrant whose only goal is to remain in power, as was Hugo Chávez before him.
Under these men, the Venezuelan people have seen their basic freedoms curbed, elections stolen, reporters imprisoned or exiled, and the economy destroyed. Maduro has blatantly prevented U.S.-provided economic assistance from getting to his people by physically blocking roads. When Venezuelans tried to access this desperately needed assistance on their own, Maduro utilized his armed security forces to stop them from doing so, resulting in several tragic deaths. These are not the actions of a democratically minded leader; it is impossible to recognize Maduro as a legitimate head of state when he uses fraud, bribery, and violence to maintain his grip on power.
It is the consensus of the international democratic community that Maduro must be removed from power and the will of the Venezuelan people restored. Despite the shameful actions of Code Pink and their far-left ilk supporting the oppressive regime of Maduro in their reflexive anti-democratic bias, the United States and our allies are right to recognize the presidency of Juan Guaidó, a product of the democratically-elected National Assembly.
This move ensures that the United States will always stand with governments who serve their people over themselves. Americans and Venezuelans have always had a strong bond and we are committed to continuing this special relationship here in Colorado and working together to do as much as we can to help the Venezuelan people. That is why we support the Venezuela Emergency Relief, Democracy Assistance, and Development Act of 2019. This bipartisan legislation will establish comprehensive U.S. policy toward Venezuela aimed at combatting government corruption, advancing democratic principles, and assisting in their economic recovery.
It is our duty to work with the Trump administration, the Guaidó administration, and our international allies so that the ability of the Venezuelan people to decide their political fate is preserved.
Cory Gardner has served as United States senator for Colorado since 2015. Sue Montoya is the president of SOS Venezuela— Denver.