Like many Venezuelans my age, as soon as I was done with high school, I packed my bags and left the country behind in search of a better future in Europe. But not everyone was as lucky as me. The situation deteriorated so swiftly that it was close to impossible to keep up with what happened.
Even though Venezuela was always a land that received people from all over the world with open arms throughout the 20th century, the last four years Venezuela has seen a massive mass emigration with up to 3.2 million people leaving to mostly neighbouring countries like Colombia and Brazil, and some of them to Ecuador and Peru. By UN estimates, 2 million more could leave by the end of 2019. To put that into perspective, that is more than 15% of the country’s population, an exodus that can be compared to refugee crises such as the Syrian and Afghan ones. But what are Venezuelans fleeing? They are running from an oppressive, socialist regime that has deprived its people of food, medicine, electricity and even water. The average citizen of a nation with the largest proven oil reserves on Earth has lost about 11kg last year. It is startling to see overweight regime officials eating in luxurious steakhouses while most Venezuelans are forced to go through the garbage to look for food during a countrywide blackout.
After more than two decades of disastrous Bolivarian socialism, driven by the forceful takeover of most private companies and land and the stuffing of the state-owned oil company with Chavez’s cronies, most Venezuelans, including myself, remained cynical about the possibility for any sort of possible change. Inflation is at seven digits, medicine remains scarce, opposition leaders are jailed, protesters are killed and elections are rigged. The opposition rightfully boycotted the presidential elections that took place in May of 2018, and no country that could call itself democratic recognized the results. Given the fact Venezuela found itself without a legitimate president, per the constitution, the president of the national assembly, Juan Guaidó, was next in line. He assumed the office of interim president on 23 January, surprising many in both the government and the opposition. The world’s leading democracies immediately recognized Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. The overwhelming majority of Latin America followed suit. Unsurprisingly, authoritarian regimes such as Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, have doubled down on Maduro.
International pressure helps
Venezuela has many friends in Europe. The European Parliament along with its president Antonio Tajani have been a powerful voice in the midst of the crisis. The fact the Italian government is still split on this issue is mindboggling, as more than 140,000 Italians reside in Venezuela. EU countries that choose to remain neutral will quickly find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Sanctions are and will remain the most effective method of pressuring Maduro’s regime. Those who have pillaged the country’s coffers cannot continue to buy entire apartment blocks in Europe’s capitals and send their kids to college in Western countries. The Maduro regime is not a government as most people know a government, similar to Putin’s Russia, it operates like a mafia, where state resources are split between loyalists and very little trickles down to the people.
Some officials and high-ranking military have already pledged their allegiance to president Guaidó, but the core generals have refused to do so out of fear. Those who step out of line are brutally executed. Some continue their support of Maduro to maintain their riches.
Talk of dialogue is cheap, as it has been attempted before and only resulted in further loss of life. Targeted sanctions as well a complete embargo on Venezuelan oil is the only action that will make the military choose the constitutional path. Those who believe Russia and China will continue to pour money into an inept regime on its last days underestimate how much these nation’s governments just want to get paid. Only with the Maduro regime on the run will Venezuela be able to have free and fair elections.
President Guaidó has given something that Venezuelans have not had after decades of disaster: hope.