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A demonstrator wearing a gas mask on a bridge at the Venezuela border with Colombia. A demonstrator wearing a gas mask and carrying a shield calls for others to join him in confronting Venezuelan National Guardsmen blocking the entry of U.S.-supplied humanitarian aid, La Parada, Colombia, Feb. 25, 2019 (AP photo by Fernando Vergara).

What’s Ahead for Venezuela’s Crisis?

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

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 is likely to further exacerbate 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.

WPR has covered Venezuela in detail and continues to examine key questions about what will happen next. How will the Biden administration change the U.S. approach to Venezuela? As the crisis deepens, how long will the Maduro regime remain unified? How will the pandemic 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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Our Most Recent Coverage

Venezuela’s Crisis Could Be Another Casualty of Russia’s Ukraine Invasion

The progressive build-up of geopolitical tensions created by the Russia-Ukraine war has produced a fresh layer of complexity over how to resolve Venezuela’s challenges. But despite their deepening adversarial stance elsewhere, can foreign powers somehow harness their efforts to facilitate a solution?

Domestic Politics & Economy

In declaring himself interim president, Guaido claimed that Maduro’s 2018 reelection was a sham, with leading opposition figures either blocked from contesting it or refusing to even participate. Turnout was below 50 percent. However, 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 latest sham election in December 2020, this time for the National Assembly, seems to have signaled the end of any realistic possibility that his effort to dislodge Maduro will succeed.

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.

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.

[SPECIAL OFFER: Want to learn more? Get full access to World Politics Review for 12 weeks for just $12 and read all the articles linked here to get up to speed on this important issue.]

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2019 and is regularly updated.