VENEZUELA POLITICS: Crisis in Venezuela Must Not Be Ignored By US

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By Politicoscope November 6, 2017 15:48

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Sadly, the unraveling of Venezuela’s health infrastructure is reminiscent of what’s currently happening in Yemen, though this is happening just a short flight from Miami rather than halfway around the world. Adding to the social misery is a dramatic expansion in crime.

A Gallup survey this year revealed that only 12 percent of Venezuelans felt safe walking after sundown, and only 14 percent expressed confidence in the police, the lowest results ever recorded in Venezuela, and the lowest results recorded worldwide in more than a decade.

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VENEZUELA POLITICS: Crisis in Venezuela Must Not Be Ignored By US

As journalist James Reston once wryly remarked, “The people of the United States will do anything for Latin America, except read about it.” That tendency is understandable today, given the myriad hotspots commanding our attention, from North Korea to Syria and Afghanistan to Iran. But if you enjoy reading about those distant crises, boy is there one worthy of your attention brewing much closer to home in Venezuela, a country teetering on the edge of default, despite having the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the Venezuelan economy will contract by another six percent in 2018, after shrinking by around 12 percent this year. By comparison, the U.S. economy shrank by 0.3 percent in 2008 and around 3 percent in 2009, following the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. At the same time, Venezuela’s inflation rate is expected to skyrocket to more than 2,300 percent next year, by far the highest rate in the world.

Not surprisingly, this has taken a terrible toll on living standards. Venezuelans are short of everything, from food to medicine. It’s estimated that about one-fifth of the country’s medical personnel have fled the country in the past four years. Meanwhile, there has been an alarming spike in child mortality rates, an increase in malnutrition among the younger population, and an explosion in the spread of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.

Sadly, the unraveling of Venezuela’s health infrastructure is reminiscent of what’s currently happening in Yemen, though this is happening just a short flight from Miami rather than halfway around the world. Adding to the social misery is a dramatic expansion in crime. A Gallup survey this year revealed that only 12 percent of Venezuelans felt safe walking after sundown, and only 14 percent expressed confidence in the police, the lowest results ever recorded in Venezuela, and the lowest results recorded worldwide in more than a decade.

Predictably, these conditions have triggered a flood of people fleeing the country, including to the United States. According to the United Nations refugee agency, there were 27,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers worldwide last year, and so far around 50,000 have applied for asylum this year. Of course, the number of those departing via informal routes is many times higher, with Brazil, Colombia, and other countries such as Guyana and Trinidad absorbing a growing number of Venezuelan refugees.

The situation in Colombia is especially worrisome, given its porous border and its own domestic challenges. Colombia already houses an estimated 250,000 Venezuelans, and recent reports indicate that the number of Venezuelans there has increased by 38 percent in just the past four months. If the situation in Caracas continues to deteriorate, might Bogota soon be forced to accommodate another million refugees? If so, how would this affect a key ally that is preparing for a critical presidential election next May? Colombia is already struggling to jumpstart its sluggish economy, tackle drug trafficking, and fully implement its historic peace agreement with the FARC rebels.

So, what can be done? As a starting point, it’s important for U.S. policymakers to periodically highlight that Venezuela’s crisis is home grown and is the culmination of nearly two decades of staggering political and economic mismanagement. Since 1999, former President Hugo Chávez and now President Nicolás Maduro have steadily nationalized companies, undermined the rule of law and foreign investment, and engaged in runaway spending, all while fostering a culture of official corruption.

Both presidents have also repeatedly blamed Venezuela’s economic problems on international financial institutions and especially the United States, a claim that is worth challenging at every opportunity. It’s probably also worth accepting the sad reality that Maduro’s creation of a new Constituent Assembly and his ability to persuade four newly-elected opposition governors to accept its legitimacy has probably ensured that he will remain in power for at least the next year.

Therefore, it’s wise to base our policy going forward on three key pillars. First, it makes sense to continue expressing our displeasure with Maduro’s anti-democratic behavior by sanctioning economic engagement with the government, but primarily by targeting government leaders engaged in objectionable activities, rather than measures that hurt the already reeling population. Recent American and Canadian moves to sanction more than 40 senior Venezuelan officials seems a good policy template to follow.

Second, we need to identify creative ways to funnel humanitarian aid into the country, particularly through relief agencies, and prepare for a potential refugee spike in the region, including plans to rapidly increase assistance to countries of first asylum, many of which lack absorptive capacity and will require help to manage a sharp influx of refugees. It will be important for the future of relations between the United States and Venezuela that during this crisis we were seen as having supported democratic norms and the people, and sending humanitarian assistance now will reinforce that message.

Finally, it would be wise to avoid any action, including military intervention, which would shift the responsibility for this crisis from Caracas to Washington. In many ways, Venezuela’s nightmare is a cautionary tale for the West about the dark side of populism. It demonstrates the perils of embracing the politics of resentment and polarization over inclusion and reconciliation, charismatic leadership at the expense of institutional development, scapegoating over sound economic stewardship, and corruption over transparency. It’s a crisis that we cannot solve alone, but it’s one occurring close to home with large implications for the future of the Western Hemisphere. In other words, it’s a crisis that the American public really should not ignore.

– Hill


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Politicoscope
By Politicoscope November 6, 2017 15:48

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Since You’re Here, We Would Like to ask You for Help

There are more readers worldwide reading the Politicoscope daily news content than ever before. Unlike many other news media organisations that charge their readers subscription fees for the same daily news content and features we offer you for free, we do not charge all our readers to pay any fee. We depend on online advertising to generate the revenues to fund all these great news content and exclusive features provided to you for free. Currently, advertising revenues are quickly falling which is affecting our ability to offer you free online news content.
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"I visit Politicoscope everyday to read my daily news in world politics. I'm glad it's all for free. On my part, I'm happy to donate monthly so as to continue enjoying these free content because it's actually a small amount from me compared to paid subscriptions by other news organisations. I want to help Politicoscope grow more so that I and other readers can continue to have access to free and exclusive daily online news." - Denise H., from LA, USA.
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