Oil, migration and proximity. These are the reasons experts gave when asked why the western world — particularly the United States — is so concerned with Venezuela’s political fate.
Since the Venezuelan presidential election was officially won by embattled leader Nicolas Maduro last summer and then deemed fraudulent by much of the international community, both U.S. President Donald Trump, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and 50 other countries have moved to back opposition leader Juan Guaido’s claim to office. Russia and China have not wavered in their support for Maduro’s regime.
Over the last few months, this has resulted in violent clashes between civilians and police amid an escalating economic drought in Venezuela. Further, the U.S. has proceeded to place sanctions on a Venezuelan state-run oil company, hindering the country’s ability to export its most valuable resource.
Here are three key reasons why the U.S. and much of the Western world are highly concerned with the state of Venezuela:
Venezuela is home to the largest oil reserves in the world, amounting to over 300 billion barrels. However, the production of oil in the country has been dropping due to a lack of available oil rigs. In May 2018, Venezuela’s crude oil production was just 1.4 million barrels per day.
For context, the world’s second largest holder of proven oil reserves is Saudi Arabia, which has a daily crude oil production capacity of over 12 times that of Venezuela.
The United States is Venezuela’s largest export partner but has recently ceased imports and exports from Venezuela, which have put significant pressure on the country’s economy. In the absence of American business, the Council on Foreign Relations states that Venezuela is struggling to find alternative buyers for its oil because of refining constraints.
In addition to backing Guaido, the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s state-run oil company to try to force out Maduro, a move that’s being actively opposed by key Venezuelan allies Russia and China.
The economic crisis in Venezuela, which originated under the Hugo Chavez regime and has continued under his successor Maduro, has driven over 2.7 million people to flee the country.
The government declared a state of emergency in 2016 after inflation hit 800 per cent. In 2018, the Conversation reports that inflation hit 80,000 per cent, leading to the largest human displacement in Latin American history.
“They have health conditions due to the lack of treatments here, the lack of medical provisions to do follow-ups to their diseases or get even vaccines. On average, Venezuelans have lost 11 kilos of weight due to the economic crisis. It’s not that you have always been undernourished, it’s that you were healthy and this government and this situation made you sick,” said Lina Vanoria, a reporter with Union Radio in Venezuela.
As of 2016, approximately 290,000 Venezuelan migrants had resettled in the United States, with approximately 21,000 having resettled in Canada.
Countries that have seen the greatest influx of Venezuelan migrants include Colombia at 1.1 million, Peru at 506,000, with other countries in South America receiving anywhere between 1,000 and 290,000. However, the Council on Foreign Relations reports that about 20 per cent of migrants moving to South America are then moving to North America and Southern Europe.
At a House hearing this week, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said the Department of Homeland Security estimates there are 270,000 Venezuelan nationals currently in the U.S. and 123,000 of them do not have authorization from immigration authorities.
The final reason experts cited for Western interest in the Venezuelan crisis is simply its close proximity to compared to other conflicts around the world.
“Venezuela has been kind of on a back-burner but suddenly it’s come to a front-burner, people are grabbing on to that, the news media is grabbing onto that,” explained economist and public speaker John Perkins.
What happens now?
This past Wednesday, U.S. Congress advanced two bills related to Venezuela.
The House Judiciary Committee passed a measure that seeks to protect Venezuelan citizens currently living in the United States from deportation by granting them temporary protected status. The legislation, approved 20-9, now moves forward to be considered by the full House.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee, meanwhile, approved a bipartisan bill that seeks to accelerate planning at international financial institutions for Venezuela’s reconstruction.
In the Senate, the measure adopted Wednesday would authorize $400 million in new humanitarian assistance and formally recognize and support efforts by Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido to restore democracy.
— With files from Jasmine Pazzano and the Associated Press.