Since 2014, the political oppression Venezuelans are susceptible to has become visible to the public. Citizens who want to have a voice are terrorized by the government, putting lives at stake. No race or gender is an exception.
The People’s Response
Shortages of basic goods have prompted people to demand change. Caracas, the Venezuelan capital, has been flooded with people fighting to overthrow Nicolas Maduro, the current Venezuelan President. However, months have gone by and Maduro has not gone anywhere. He continues in his dictatorial throne, funded by like-minded world leaders, while Venezuela continues to suffer.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened the living conditions of many Venezuelans. Most of the world is undergoing a deep state of chaos due to the pandemic, but Venezuela has taken one of the largest blows. Currently, 96% of Venezuelans are living in poverty and 9.3 million citizens are facing moderate to severe food insecurities.
As power-hungry leaders react to uprisings, Maduro has not caved to the protests. Instead, he has used military force to intimidate citizens into remaining silent about the violations of their rights. By September 2020, the United Nations had investigated 223 cases involving human rights abuses perpetrated by Maduro against Venezuelans. According to the UN, protestors were subjected to “rape with body parts or objects, threats to rape either the detainee or the detainee’s loved ones, forced nudity, beatings, and electric shocks to the genitals.”
Two security force groups controlled by Maduro, the CICPC and FAES, were at the forefront of attacking protestors. These organizations are responsible for “59% of the killings by security forces.” A FAES training video showed officers ordered to “kill criminals without compassion.” Violence is being used to keep a man in power, whose position should entail caring for his country before procuring political gain.
Even after being subjected to such violence, however, Venezuelans continued to protest. Their hunger, oppression, and economic downfall is more painful than any direct violence from the authorities. But their efforts are not enough. Maduro’s takeover of the Venezuelan democracy can only be defeated by powers stronger than him.
Maduro has gained the support of two major global powers. China and Russia have been assisting Maduro in his hostile presidential takeover. Between 2007 and 2017, China provided Venezuela with over $60 billion to support the government and oil-production. Russia has loaned $6.5 billion to Venezuela, money used to fund oil extraction and military expenses.
In contrast, the United States has shown efforts to defeat Maduro and help Venezuelans regain their human rights. On March 31, the United States proposed the Democratic Transition Framework, a plan to restore the Venezuelan democracy and overthrow Maduro. The United States has proposed to establish a new government responsible for ensuring fair presidential elections, imposed sanctions on Maduro’s administration, established visa restrictions on government officials supporting Maduro, recognized Juan Guaido as interim President of Venezuela, and sent an estimate of $611 million in humanitarian assistance.
Although the United States has proven its good intentions, its efforts have only been a slap on the wrist for Maduro. Because the U.S. has not affected the Maduro regime, it is time to take a different approach through Venezuelan allies. Going directly to the sources fueling this dictator may be the only way to overthrow his rule.
In January 2019, Donald J. Trump lifted sanctions imposed on Rusal, the world’s second-largest aluminum producer from Russia. Consequently, the Russian stock index experienced an “all-time high.” If the U.S. were to impose stronger sanctions like the ones established before 2019, the Russian economy would experience a devastating low, minimizing its ability to fund Maduro.
During 2020, the United States has exported over $95 million and imported over $348 million worth of Chinese goods. China’s economy generates more revenue from the United States than the U.S. does from China. If the United States were to impose stronger sanctions on Chinese imports, fewer Americans would buy its products and China’s economy would take a noticeable loss. Of course, China will likely reduce its U.S. imports too, but the United States has less to lose in revenue than China would. With less income, China will have less room to fund Maduro.
On December 6, 2020, Venezuela held its legislative elections and the results were exactly as expected. The Venezuelan National Assembly had been the only branch of government inaccessible to Maduro due to its opposition-majority control, but now, his supporters have taken control. Before the election, Juan Guaido served as head of the assembly and, therefore, was legally able to present himself as the interim Venezuelan President. With a 67.6% majority win of the National Assembly, the Unified Socialist Party and other political groups supporting Maduro have ensured Maduro’s reign for the upcoming years. The opposition groups have condemned the results claiming the election was rigged. As of now, Guaido is set to lose his title as National Assembly leader on January 5, 2021, putting his title as interim President at risk. With Maduro having the National Assembly on his side, there is one less government institution still fighting to restore democracy in Venezuela.
The United States has the power to save Venezuelan lives by doing more. If Maduro has not backed down yet, it is because not enough has been done. The majority of countries try to secure their gain before taking risks to help others, but Venezuelans are in desperate need. By taking action, will the U.S. further strain its relationship with Russia and China? Sure. But are the lives of millions worth it? Absolutely.