Venezuela: Tumultuous times

Venezuela continues to make headlines. Sociopolitical upheaval in this wealthy yet, at the same time, impoverished country is unavoidable. We have been committing ourselves to the problems that people fleeing the nation’s turmoil are confronted with. For many in South America, displacement and migration pose challenges. Migration flows via Central America to the North are being propagated by politicians in the media. CSR ERBER Group has been supporting displaced people for years now. In particular, it is the situation in Venezuela that has left many concerned in the past years. What happened to the country which, in 1982, was the richest country in Latin America and has now become its poorhouse?

In 2018, Venezuela’s inflation rate was recorded at 1.5 million percent, i.e., prices doubled every two to three weeks. The country’s economic performance has decreased by approximately half since 2013; oil production has gone down to a mere 1.1 million barrels, a third of what was produced in 2013, and it can barely manage its foreign debt. In short, the economy is in shambles and the state is bankrupt. Figures vary to a certain extent, depending on the source and political color. The Venezuelan government stopped releasing official statistics years ago.

In the country’s stores, supply continues to fall. A kilogram of cheese costs 3,450 bolivars. Depending on whether the official or the parallel exchange rate is used, it amounts to approximately 3 to 4 euros. In any event, you can buy exactly 1.3 kilograms of cheese with the country’s minimum wage of 4,500 bolivars.

Everyone agrees that a change of government is the only way to improve the situation, and that this transition can only occur from within. However, the question as to how this should happen continues to be a source of consternation. Nicolas Maduro and his party have established an autocratic regime, dismantled the system of checks and balances and rendered parliament powerless. Maduro’s most recent mandate as the president of Venezuela has not been recognized by many countries, including several EU member states, as the country’s elections were deemed to be irregular. Venezuelan bishops also referred to Maduro as an “illegitimate president” in their statement on January 9, 2019. Even if there is a change of government, the country will still require help from abroad for years to come if it is to overcome its current humanitarian crisis.

In recent years, three million people have fled Venezuela, once considered to be a country of immigration. CSR ERBER Group is supporting JRS, the refugee aid organization of the Jesuits in Latin America, during this humanitarian disaster. Over one million Venezuelans have arrived in neighboring Columbia in droves. The national infrastructure is unable to cope with the influx of people in Columbia’s still restless border regions. The country needs organizations like JRS, whose many volunteers attempt to mitigate suffering in this state of emergency. They concentrate on humanitarian aid: medication, food, bringing families together. Their focus lies primarily on those who are particularly vulnerable when displaced and in need: pregnant women, women with small children, girls and young adults, the elderly, the chronically ill, and unaccompanied minors.

We have not lost sight of the country’s destitution during the refugee crisis. P. Väthröder SJ visited a project in Venezuela and describes the situation as follows: “Poor children attending school have problems with malnutrition. Many of them don’t have enough to eat and are underweight. They can’t concentrate in class.” In the meantime, Fe y Alegría is offering children at 57 schools a warm meal at no cost, and these meals are being funded by donors.