Venezuela’s economic situation has become so desperate that the Maduro regime is unable to adequately supply food and medicine to the country’s citizens. Currency controls and a reliance on imports have severely restricted even the most basic goods reaching Venezuelan stores. Meanwhile, hyperinflation, which is predicted to reach as high as 720 per cent this year, leaves Venezuelans with little purchasing power.
Empty shelves and desperation
In late 2014, Venezuela’s government introduced rationing, even for basics such as cooking oil and milk. However, far from stabilizing the situation, conditions have only deteriorated since then, with shortages becoming ever more acute. 2015 was marked by huge lines outside stores, as Venezuelans became accustomed to waiting for many hours in order to purchase staple items including rice and laundry soap.
As Venezuelans became more desperate, their frustration inevitably spilled over. In the first half of 2015, an independent monitoring group recorded 56 lootings and 76 attempted looting at stores. However, the Venezuelan government has stubbornly refused to recognize that a genuine crisis exists, let alone take concrete steps to relieve the suffering. It has rejected the opposition-dominated legislature’s declaration of a “nutritional emergency,” which would trigger a push towards desperately needed food imports.
Meanwhile, there are reports that government officials have confiscated mobile phones in stores in order to prevent images of empty shelves from reaching social media. Maduro himself has even gone as far as to blame a United States “conspiracy” for the death of a 21-year-old in a supermarket riot in 2015. Meanwhile, pro-Maduro parliamentary members say that the greed of private companies is responsible for the food chaos.
Medical shortages endangering lives
Just as basic foodstuffs are not reaching Venezuelans, nor are crucial medical supplies. In 2015, parents of children suffering from cancer began to demonstrate in front of a children’s hospital in the capital Caracas, to protest the country’s shortage of chemotherapy treatments. At the same time, it was reported that tens of thousands of Venezuelans with HIV had no access to antiretroviral drugs.
The situation has since gotten worse, with basic medical shortages widespread. Venezuela’s leading trade group of pharmacies said that 90 per cent of medicines are scarce. The cost to life is becoming very real. The Central Hospital in the western city of San Cristobal recently reported that six babies died due to shortages of medicines and respirators.
And things threaten to deteriorate further. The government claims that Venezuela has just 5,000 cases of the Zika virus which has gripped the region, while opposition figures put the figure at between 400,000 and 500,000 cases. There are reports that large numbers of Venezuelans are crossing the border to Colombia for treatment for Zika, with Venezuela woefully unequipped.