Backers of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro rally in his support (Image:AP /Boris Vergara)

An attempted coup currently unfolding in Venezuela is a bleak reminder that the Latin American nation is grappling with a worsening humanitarian, socio-political and economic crisis, with opposition leaders out on the streets with armed soldiers calling for a military uprising.

Venezuela has been suffering from major food and medical shortages, and hyperinflation, which has led to the mass exodus of millions of Venezuelans over the past few years, looking for relief and refuge. The two leaders clashing over rightful leadership are sitting President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.

In response to worsening conditions and Maduro ruling by decree, Guadió this year declared himself the interim president of the country. Guadió has the backing of 54 governments, including Trump’s government in the US, who view Maduro’s election win last year as unlawful.

Who are the players?

Nicolas Maduro is the sitting President of Venezuela and leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. Maduro narrowly became president after winning a special election in 2013 with 50.62% of votes. The election was triggered by the death of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez. Maduro has since remained in charge of the country, after using decree powers in 2015, 2015 and 2016 to maintain his governance.

Juan Guaido is the president of the National Assembly of Venezuela and aligns with the social-democratic party The Popular Will. Guadió this year recognised himself as interim President of Venezuela. His party, The Popular Will, was formed in opposition to Maduro in 2014, and it played a key part in the 2014 Venezuelan protests. The group deemed Maduro “illegitimate” and “a murderer”.

What is the economic situation in Venezuela?

Venezuela has been crippled by exorbitant hyperinflation. It has the highest inflation rate in the world at 10,000,000% according to recent data by the International Monetary Fund. This has led to poverty and shortages of food and medicine.

Chavez, who preceded Maduro, used oil revenue to run the country when he was alive. Debt was accumulated, which Maduro inherited when he came to power, and the oil price crash of 2014 deteriorated the economy.

In order to tackle the dwindling economic situation, Maduro printed more money and introduced a new currency in 2015, the sovereign bolivar, which “knocks five zeros off the current system”, Maduro said at the time.

A new report published by US think-tank, the Centre for Economic and Policy Research, also reveals that US sanctions against Venezuela aimed at its oil industry, has contributed massively to the dire circumstances. The report by Columbia University’s Jeffrey Sachs, along with Mark Weisbrot, claims as many as 40,000 Venezuelans have died because of sanctions.

What is happening on the ground now?

Dr Raul Sanchez-Urribarri, a La Trobe University lecturer in legal studies with an emphasis on Latin America and Venezuela, said Guaidio has “acted in a way that was not anticipated by the government, by calling for a military uprising.”

Guaido is on the streets with a small group of defected soldiers near a military airbase in the city of Caracas, flanked by Popular Will party leader Leopoldo Lopez, who they liberated overnight from house arrest.

“For most Venezuelans to see this, it’s quite shocking in the sense that it is a major political event and that of course leaves us with the military side of things. How many people in the military are siding with Guaido? Not many from what we can tell (from current indications).”

Dr Sanchez-Urribarri said Maduro was also nowhere to be seen.

He said countries like the US and Venezuela’s neighbours were invested in Venezuela because the crisis “presents a formidable threat to stability in the region”.

“From a geopolitical perspective, three million, close to four million Venezuelans are refugees, forced migration, out of this horrific socio-economic crisis.

Dr Sanchez-Urribarri, who is Venezuelan himself, said the “living conditions the media accounts of daily life there…fall short. It’s really a dismal situation and the refugee crisis and political decline of the state capacity, and the growing role of criminal networks in the government…is decaying the state”

Peter Fray

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