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It’s been three years since opposition leader Juan Guaido’s party won Venezuela's presidential election. But despite international support for Guaido, President Nicolas Maduro continues to lead. With confidence in the democratic process waning, Venezuela is also undergoing a shrinking economy and a growing humanitarian and refugee crisis. Cynthia Arnson, director of the Wilson Center’s Latin American program, joins from Washington, D.C.
It's been three years since opposition leader Juan Guaido was deemed the winner of Venezuela's presidential election. But despite international support for Guaido, president Nicolas Maduro continues to lead the embattled country which is undergoing a shrinking economy and a growing humanitarian and refugee crisis. For more on Venezuela I spoke with Cynthia Arnson, director of the Wilson Center's Latin American program from Washington DC.
Where are we now? I mean, Maduro is still in power.
Maduro is definitely still in power. The popularity of Juan Guaido has plummeted since the high level that he had in January of 2019. The opposition thought it would be able to effect a rapid transition to democracy, and that hasn't taken place. The economic crisis continues. The opposition is not unified in terms of its view of how to achieve democratization going forward. And all of these things have made Guaido's popularity plummet to about 16 percent, which is pretty much the same as Nicolas Maduro.
So what's life like for people on the streets in Venezuela in these past couple of years?
Life is very difficult. The poverty rate is over 95 percent. About 75 percent of people live in extreme poverty. There are shortages of food, of drinking water, of medicines. Inflation last year was down to 700 percent. It's less than it was at 3,000 percent the year before. But inflation is still very, very high.
So how does a government function here? Is it able to provide services? Is it able to pay security forces, armies, police departments on a state level, local level?
The government pays government workers in local currency. And I think what has happened and what you see all over Latin America and the Caribbean now is the number of Venezuelans who just are leaving the country. About six million Venezuelans have fled in a very short period of time, really in less than seven or eight years. You know, Venezuelans in many ways continue to vote with their feet. And there's a huge difference between those, particularly in urban areas in the capital of Caracas who have access to dollars. And one of the things that Maduro has tried to do to stabilize the levels of inflation in the currency, you know, is to allow for trade internationally in dollars. But it helps people that have access to that kind of currency, and it doesn't help those who don't have access to things other than the local currency, the bolivar.
So, Ms. Arnson, has the economy in Venezuela hit rock bottom?
Well, I think it has hit rock bottom and it's starting to rebound in some small but nonetheless significant ways. Venezuela is principally an oil exporting country and its oil production because of mismanagement, because of corruption, because of U.S. sanctions had plummeted to about 350,000 barrels per day just as recently as 2020. And now the government claims that that's up to a million barrels per day. Most independent analysts don't say it's quite a million, but even so, it's pretty much doubled. And when you couple that with the high price of oil now in international markets, it has given a boost to the Venezuelan economy. And critically, even though there are primary as well as secondary sanctions in place against the Venezuelan oil sector by the United States, other regimes that are similarly sanctioned by the United States are helping Venezuela in expanding oil production.
Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Wilson Center. Thank you again.
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