Over the past several weeks, hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans have crossed the previously closed border with Colombia to purchase the basic necessities they can no longer buy at home , a net result of Venezuela’s ongoing economic and political turmoil. What a testament to how desperate life has become for ordinary Venezuelans, who have endured hyper-inflation, high levels of unemployment, a rise in poverty, rampant cronyism and corruption, and severely reduced oil revenues — even before Nicolas Maduro assumed office in 2013. Since then, it has all become much worse. Is this the beginning of the end for Maduro, or will his police state continue to flog the country’s people as he desperately clings to power?
The economy has been, and remains, a disaster. The IMF estimates that Venezuela’s inflation rate is running at nearly 700% this year, and is projected to exceed 1,600% next year . The Maduro administration has attempted to address the hyper-inflation by implementing rampant price controls, continuing with Hugo Chavez’s policy of widespread nationalizations, and imposing a wide range of tariffs that are projected to have caused GDP to contract by about 10% by the end of 2016 . While Maduro has tried to convince supporters that this is the result of a capitalist conspiracy and economic warfare with the country’s political opponents, the ongoing malaise has put Venezuela’s political opposition close to obtaining the two-thirds majority necessary to change the constitution so as to push through a referendum aimed at reducing the length of Maduro’s remaining term in office .
The security environment matches the economic catastrophe, with a homicide rate the second highest in the world (second only to Honduras) . Pervasive corruption is so entrenched that Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index has rated Venezuela 158th out of 167 countries, a notch above Iraq and Libya. Economic freedom is so bad that the Heritage Foundation’s Freedom Index – which ranks the degree of economic freedom in a society with social and economic goals — has downgraded Venezuela every year since Maduro gained power, with Venezuela currently ranked 176th out of 178, just above Cuba and North Korea . The question is, how much will the Venezuelan people endure before creating a new ‘revolution’ to finally rid themselves of Maduro and the Chavez legacy?