Venezuela has largely dropped out of the news, obscuring the fact that Venezuelans’ lives continue to worsen.
76.6 percent live in extreme poverty, up from 67.7 percent last year, according to figures just released, and 94.5 percent of Venezuelans live in poverty. This steepest part of the economic collapse of a once affluent country has now gone on for seven years without respite.
Around a fifth of Venezuelans, 5.6 million people, have fled the country according to the UN. That’s the equivalent of 14 million people leaving Britain. Moreover, most of the Venezuelans who are leaving are in the prime of their working life. The median age of a Venezuelan migrant is 32.
Some 40,000 doctors have abandoned Venezuela over the last few years, contributing to a worsening medical crisis. More than 300 hospitals and 7,000 outpatient clinics have simply been abandoned.
For those that remain, life is bleak and getting worse. Official figures revealed by the UN show that in 2020 only 56.1 percent of employees had a formal job, two thirds of whom were working in the public sector on an average monthly wage ranging from two to five US dollars a month. Yes, that is not a misprint. On that tiny salary, a family cannot even afford to feed itself.
The economy continues to be devastated by hyperinflation, which is running at a rate of 1,737 percent in the year to date, according to Bloomberg’s café-con-leche index. Indeed, that means that this month an average Venezuelan public sector employee’s monthly pay would have stretched to buying two cups of coffee but nothing else.
According to the independent information provider ACAPS, “malnutrition has reached emergency thresholds for children under 5, with half exhibiting some degree of malnutrition, and some 280,000 at risk of death due to undernourishment”.
The combination of socialism, corruption, criminality and incompetence imposed by the Maduro regime has wrecked what was once South America’s richest country and will continue to impoverish it further. What should be Britain’s policy response? Just as in the case of climate change, we cannot fix the problem on our own, but we should try and do the right thing along with others.
We should of course continue so far successful efforts to prevent the regime’s corrupt kleptocrats getting their greedy hands on the Venezuelan gold held by the Bank of England. We also need to make more robust use of sanctions. Today Britain has placed sanctions on only 41 Venezuelans, and 36 of those are merely transfers from the EU list. By contrast Canada has sanctioned over 100 and the US almost 200 Chavistas. UK sanctions have remained closely aligned to those of the EU, which leads one to ask why Brexit freedoms in this area are not being used?
Sanctions on individual regime members are important because they greatly resent them. In negotiations, regime officials complain most about the sanctions and travel bans that they are subject to. They want to travel around and enjoy their ill-gotten loot. This provides western countries with leverage to demand policy change such as the restoration of press freedoms and the release of political prisoners.
We must also avoid wishful thinking. The efforts currently underway to negotiate the holding of free and fair elections in Venezuela are highly unlikely to lead to anything, as Maduro and his fellow Chavistas obviously know that their looting of the country would end abruptly if the population had any say over the matter. They would likely end up in jail or worse.
The key to dislodging the corrupt Chavista regime is Cuba, Maduro’s only dependable ally, which runs and staffs his intelligence apparatus. The control exercised by Cuba over Venezuela is evidenced by the fact that Maduro continues to send it free oil despite the shortage at home.
We need a more robust approach to Cuba, helping the US in cutting off the regime’s access to the hard currency needed to keep it afloat. The Cuban dictatorship has never been weaker. Its economy is near total collapse and increasing numbers of Cubans are taking to the streets and internet demanding freedom. Now is the time to help them regain democracy.
We must not forget Venezuela just because it is no longer top of the international news cycle. Global Britain should use its Brexit freedoms to provide firmer leadership to help bring an end to the Chavista poverty and migration machine.