According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the situation in Venezuela is getting worse.
This once wealthy nation is precipitously descending into the realm of becoming a failed state through a slow conversion from a quasi-democratic nation into a full-blown dictatorship, completely dismantling any semblance of the checks and balances that once existed. Socialist policies, gross mismanagement of funds and the collapse of oil prices have produced an economy on the verge of collapse. Now, with the world’s highest inflation rate, second highest homicide rate in the region, and severe basic food and medicine shortages, the situation is rapidly plunging into a desperate humanitarian crisis. According to Penn Law Professor William Burke-White, “[t]he experience of the everyday citizen in Venezuela on the ground today is one of hunger and starvation.”
In May 2016, President Maduro declared a state of exception, which grants his government the power to restrict human rights, purportedly in response to concerns about a foreign-led plot to overthrow his government. The decree allows President Maduro to “adopt measures and execute special security plans that guarantee the sustainability of the public order when faced with destabilizing actions” and “any other social, environmental, economic, political and legal measures he deems convenient.” According to HRW, President Maduro has responded to “destabilization” plots by “jailing critics and opponents[,] clamping down on the expression of dissent and the right to freedom of assembly, including through arbitrary arrests of political opponents and critics, and the weakening of the safeguards against torture.” In addition, Venezuelan security forces have used excessive force to break up anti-government protests, and since July 2015, have participated in nationwide security operations, which have led to widespread allegations of abuses against low-income and immigrant communities, “including extrajudicial executions, massive arbitrary detentions, evictions without due process, destructions of homes and arbitrary deportations.”
The opposition leader of the Venezuelan National Assembly led the proposed recall referendum in May, a process whereby the president can be removed from office and a fresh election held if there are enough signatures. However, a date has yet to be set and both President Maduro and Vice-President Isturiz vehemently deny that a referendum will ever take place, claiming that the referendum process is plagued by fraud. Furthermore, with all power concentrated in the hands of the executive office, it is unlikely that the recall referendum will ever materialize.
Unless President Maduro completely overhauls his policies and changes direction, or agrees to a compromise between the National Assembly, the only hope for Venezuelans is intervention from the international community. However, given the political legacy of former president Hugo Chavez, President Maduro’s predecessor, no foreign leaders want to send aid. Even if President Maduro is removed and a legitimate government is installed, the wake of destruction left by the current and prior administrations will take time to rebuild. In the meantime, the fate of Venezuelans hangs in the balance.