The Venezuelan Catastrophe

Venezuela is experiencing a dramatic economic meltdown and a profound humanitarian crisis. At the same time, democratic institutions and the rule of law have been undermined, with crime and corruption soaring.

Real GDP plunged by no less than 45% between 2013 and 2018, the worst ever recession in Latin America. There are widespread shortages of food and medicine. The inflation rate is running in the tens of thousands, and the bolívar has lost a mind-boggling 99.99% of its value against the US dollar. External debt is in default.

Wages have fallen behind inflation to such an extent that in June 2018 the minimum legal remuneration could only purchase the equivalent of 6.3% of the minimum calorie requirements of the average household. As a result, there has been an alarming increase in malnutrition, with record numbers of infants dying from hunger.

The health system is broken, with hospitals in a state of disrepair. Many people are dying from treatable illnesses owing to the lack of equipment and medicines. Vaccine-preventable diseases like diphtheria and measles are on the rise, and malaria has made a comeback with 400,000 cases reported in 2017 – five times higher than in 2013.

The public transportation system has collapsed. Underfunded schools and universities are struggling to maintain minimum standards of education. And the physical infrastructure is crumbling, with power cuts and water rationing occurring ever more frequently.

Many are fleeing the country to seek a better life abroad. Total emigration over the past few years has amounted to at least one million people, and possibly many more. As part of the exodus, there has been a veritable brain drain of skilled workers and professionals.

That a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world should find itself in such dire straits is truly astonishing. The trouble is that oil production has halved to 30-year lows as a result of underinvestment, mismanagement and the departure of qualified personnel.

As always in such crises, the most vulnerable are the elderly, the infirm and, in particular, the very young. The children of Venezuela are in urgent need of help.