Written by: Tatum Miller, Peak Associate
The worst humanitarian and economic crisis in the history of Latin America is currently unfolding in Venezuela. Much of the population lacks access to food or medicine, poverty is reaching all-time highs, and infant mortality is on the rise. Tensions are rising, as both Venezuela and the international community are entangled in a leadership dispute and a military schism. Canada’s response, while a strong start, should be broadened to mitigate the consequences of Venezuela’s crises.
More than three million Venezuelans have already fled, with some economists forecasting that that number will rise to eight million in the next few years. To compare, an estimated six million Syrians have fled since their country. The majority of Venezuelan refugees have arrived in Columbia or Brazil, who are struggling to cope with the massive influx of people. How can it be that the Syrian refugee crisis stoked such debate within Canada, but as a crisis unfolds close to home we barely mention it?
The crisis was caused by decades of poor economic planning that has left the Venezuelan economy in freefall. Nine out of 10 people are in poverty, and hyperinflation has eclipsed one million per cent, rendering the country’s currency absolutely worthless. The average person can only afford just 900 calories per day, far below the nearly 50,000 they could afford in 2012. The plummet has no end in sight.
Government responses to regain control of the economy have included price controls, minimum wage increases, and even issuing a dubious new cryptocurrency to replace the Bolivar. These solutions will have no effect under hyperinflation, and the oil dependant economy will continue to slide.
Opposition leader Juan Guaidó has declared himself interim president in opposition to Nicolás Maduro, and is urging the military to join his camp. This could spark a civil war if the military becomes further divided. Guaidó has gathered support from Canada, the USA and other Western powers, but Russia and China still support Maduro. Experts are drawing parallels with the Cold-War.
International responses, both to aid the people and to coerce the government into reforms, have been ineffective. This certainly hasn’t been helped by Venezuelan President Maduro’s repeated denial of foreign aid, appearing intentionally ignorant to the depth of the country’s situation. Canada, the USA, and allies have levied sanctions against Venezuela and are supporting the opposition in order to pressure Maduro, though the Venezuelan people will still suffer in the short run.
This denouncement of the Venezuela government is a step in the right direction, but there are multiple strategies that Canada should also consider.
First, we should begin reviewing Canada’s refugee policy to include Venezuela alongside Syria. The Liberal Party proudly promotes welcoming Syrian refugees, and this should include Venezuelans as well. In the upcoming 2019 election, this opportunity to provide international relief could be a major platform opportunity for any candidate.
Second, Canada should increase cooperation with the Organization of American States (OAS), the Lima Group, and bolster neighbouring countries that have already taken in refugees. The crisis will become worse before it gets better, and in the wake of this catastrophic socioeconomic breakdown, civil war or total state collapse is not far-fetched. The region must be stable to minimize spillover effects.
Canada historically has taken in refugees during times of crisis, from the Vietnam war to the recent Syrian crisis. We pride ourselves on giving humanitarian aid and we continue to do so in many countries today. It is urgent that we shift our gaze to the dangers faced by Venezuela and make a positive impact where we can.