Police launch tear gas into a crowd of students in a 2014 anti-Maduro protest in Altamira, Venezuela. These kind of protests and this kind of response have become regular for Venezuela over the past 2 years. By Andrés E. Azpúrua, 2014, via Wikimedia Commons.
Recent protests responding to years of economic turmoil, high crime, and increasing authoritarianism from President Nicolás Maduro may push Venezuela over the precipice and into civil war and collapse. In this last month over 20 people have died in protest, riots and looting while leaders across Latin and South America bemoaned the violence in the country and called for both sides to reach an accord and start towards elections. Unfortunately, even with external pressures pushing against violence and the Maduro regime, true peace will not likely return to Venezuela.
The current protests in Venezuela see heavy looting – that both sides blame the other for – and government forces mobilized to dispel crowds with lethal force. Paramilitary groups called colectivos also push back against anti-government protests. The state arms and trains colectivos, pardoning them and turning a blind eye to their relation to the black market and organized crime in reward for breaking up dangerous strikes and protests. Though the Venezuelan government claims that the opposition, too, is made up of criminal gangs and responsible for most of the death and looting on the streets.
This wave of violence is just the surface of a sea of problems confronting Venezuela. Basic economic data from the World Bank’s Development Indicators shows how much trouble the country is in. Worse than just reaching high levels, inflation spikes and staggers unpredictably in Venezuela. When inflation rises and falls unpredictably, citizens can never know what to expect in terms of prices and what to lobby for in terms of wages. During each of the last four years, the amount the average Venezuelan earns (GDP per capita) either has either stagnated or fallen. Poverty rates have also gradually risen to the point that around one-third of the nation is below Venezuela’s national poverty line.
If these statistics feel too dry, one study found that the average Venezuelan lost 19 pounds this last year due to food shortages and rationing.
The country also suffers from societal divides. While some in the country still believe in the socialist government as led by Chavez and Maduro, others do not and will not abide Maduro’s political imprisonments, banning of opposition leaders from elections, and attempts to dissolve the whole legislature. Add to that political divide rising gang violence, booming narcotic trades, a starving populace regularly protesting, and a government unable to do much more than put them down.
Even with everything on the brink of collapse, some analysts such as Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez see Venezuela not on the tipping point of revolution or reform, but descending into the mire of failed statehood. Lansberg-Rodriguez, writing for Financial Times, notes that Venezuela’s annual protests let Maduro find and weed out his enemies in the army and the state while arming citizens that still support him, solidifying his power even as the country falls apart. Without a heavy international push – maybe even with one – Venezuela’s opposition might have to turn to violence, leading the country to civil war.