There is no end in sight to the political and humanitarian crises that have overwhelmed Venezuela and spilled over into neighboring countries for the past several years. In fact, the protracted fight for control of the country has only meant additional suffering for its citizens, who are already living in the most dire conditions outside of a warzone in recent memory.
Even if the political stalemate were to be broken, there are no easy solutions for fixing the country’s economy, which was too dependent on oil and collapsed as global crude prices fell. But President Nicolas Maduro has shown more interest in consolidating his grip on power than making needed structural changes. The result has been growing shortages of food and basic supplies, widespread power outages and alarming rates of malnutrition. The crisis has also decimated the country’s health care system, leaving Venezuela at the mercy of the coronavirus pandemic, which further exacerbated all of its challenges.
Opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to oust Maduro’s government in early 2019 with the backing of the United States appears to have backfired. U.S. support initially helped Guaido succeed in getting himself recognized as Venezuela’s legitimate interim president by governments in the region and around the world. But Guaido and the opposition proved unable to seize power, hardening the Maduro regime’s resolve and ultimately resulting in an impasse. The outcome of sham legislative elections in December 2020, which removed the National Assembly from opposition control, underscored Guaido’s increasing irrelevance. Meanwhile, Washington’s public attempts to help bring down Maduro’s socialist administration have pushed the Venezuelan leader to strengthen his partnerships with Russia and China.
The internal crisis has spilled out across South America as millions of Venezuelans have now fled the country in search of food and jobs. The exodus has fueled xenophobia and even violence against Venezuelans seeking refuge in neighboring countries. It has also stretched the capacity of regional governments and humanitarian organizations as they attempt to provide aid to Venezuelans fanned out across the region. Although the coronavirus pandemic temporarily halted and even reversed the flow of refugees, it has now begun again, at a time when government resources around the region have been put under strain by the health crisis. As a result, thousands of Venezuelans every month are now heading north through the dangerous Darien Gap, under the mistaken belief they will be able to easily enter the U.S. and claim asylum.
WPR has covered Venezuela in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. Will the Biden administration lift U.S. oil sanctions on Venezuela in the aftermath of the war in Ukraine? With Venezuela’s multiple crises only deepening, how long will the Maduro regime remain unified? How will the economic fallout of the war in Ukraine affect popular and governmental reactions toward Venezuelan refugees around the region? Below are some of the highlights of WPR’s coverage.
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More than 7.1 million Venezuelans have now fled the country, making the exodus the largest migration crisis in the world. But while most Venezuelan migrants had previously sought a safe haven in other countries in South America, migration patterns have shifted toward the U.S. under the false hope that things will be better there.
Domestic Politics & Economy
Despite widespread support and recognition from the international community, Guaido’s efforts to catalyze a popular uprising against the Maduro regime fizzled, as did his attempts to bring security forces to his side. The sham election in December 2020, this time for the National Assembly, seemed to signal the end of any realistic possibility that his effort to dislodge Maduro will succeed. Now the opposition has turned its eyes to the presidential election in 2024, in the hopes it will offer another opportunity to publicly challenge the regime’s legitimacy.
- Why negotiations and dialogue, whether they succeed or fail, are a necessary precondition for breaking Venezuela’s political impasse, in In Venezuela, Negotiating With Maduro Is the Worst Option—and the Only Hope
- Why the Venezuelan opposition’s decision to reengage with the Maduro government and compete in elections is a good first step, in Venezuela’s Opposition Could Become Relevant Again
- Why Venezuela’s political opposition decided to engage with the Maduro regime after all, in Venezuela’s Opposition Shifts Gears on Talks With Maduro
- Why Maduro’s grip on power doesn’t extend much beyond Caracas, in Armed Gangs and Warlords Are Taking Over Venezuela
U.S. Policy & International Implications
Washington’s backing of the Venezuelan opposition made the country a flashpoint in international relations, as well as in the United States’ domestic politics in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election, costing Biden support among Latino voters in Florida and elsewhere. Addressing the failure of U.S. policy on Venezuela amid such a charged domestic political atmosphere will be one of his many foreign policy challenges. Meanwhile, Venezuela has sought backing—and particularly economic support—from both Beijing and Moscow, creating a new arena for competition between the U.S. and its global rivals.
- Why it’s premature to expect the U.S. to soften its stance on Venezuela, in Don’t Count on a Thaw in U.S.-Venezuela Relations
- How the war in Ukraine made resolving Venezuela’s political impasse even harder, in Venezuela’s Crisis Could Be Another Casualty of Russia’s Ukraine Invasion
- How Maduro has written the playbook on evading and surviving U.S. pressure, in To Buck Global Pressure, Latin America’s Dictators Turn to ‘Isolation-Proofing’
- How Biden can build off of Trump’s failed approach to break the impasse, in Can Biden Succeed Where Trump’s Venezuela Policy Failed?
Regional Politics & Refugee Crisis
Even as battle lines have hardened within Venezuela, the country’s political crisis hasn’t spared the region. Neighboring governments have largely supported the U.S. push to isolate Maduro. But the humanitarian conditions within Venezuela have fueled a refugee crisis that has consumed government resources and popular goodwill, both of which are in increasingly short supply since the outbreak of the pandemic.
- Why the new crop of leftist leaders in South America will find managing ties with Venezuela challenging, in Venezuela’s Crisis Will Put Latin America’s ‘New Left’ to the Test
- Why Colombia’s former president took a risk in regularizing Venezuelan refugees’ status, in Duque’s Bold Gesture for Venezuelan Refugees Could Be Politically Costly
- How the coronavirus pandemic is affecting the Venezuelan refugee crisis, in COVID-19 Is Making the Latest Migrant Exodus From Venezuela Even Worse
- How the OAS sought to pressure Maduro into capitulating, in The OAS Ramps Up Regional Pressure on Venezuela Through the Rio Treaty
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.