Humanitarian, Economic, and Human Rights Crisis in Venezuela

By Robin Wilson

Venezuela is in the midst of a humanitarian, economic, and human rights crisis. The causes of the crises are rooted in the history of the country, but the situation has ramped up in recent years. Nicolas Maduro became the president of Venezuela after the death of Chavez, and he has continued promoting controversial “socialist and populist economic and social policies.”[1] Catastrophic economic decisions made by the both leaders, along with the oil price drops of 2014, have lost the country its oil reserve inheritance. Income within the country has decreased by a third,[2] and the IMF expects inflation to hit one million percent within the year.[3] Additionally, Maduro and the military remain unchecked, and basic necessities such as food and medicine are difficult to obtain due to public spending being cut. The lack of access to necessities and human rights abuses taking place are causing citizens to leave in droves. This combination of internal and international actions are highly likely to cause drastic political change in Venezuela in response to Maduro’s administration.

These factors have led Venezuela to having a refugee crisis equatable to Syria’s. Over 2 million people have left Venezuela, with the vast majority fleeing to Colombia, partially due to a lack of necessary resources.[4] U.N. officials claim that some 1.3 million Venezuelans who left the country were “suffering from malnourishment.”[5] The shortage of medicine driving people to seek medical attention elsewhere has also increased infant mortality and allowed for the return of diseases like the measles and diphtheria that Venezuela, Colombia, and other nearby states do not have the resources to fully combat. Within Zulia, the oil hub of the country, the food shortages are so bad that those remaining in the area are eating rotten meat.[6]

There are also human rights abuses taking place in Venezuela that are pushing people to leave. Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Peru, Paraguay and Canada have submitted a request to the International Criminal Court to investigate Venezuela for crimes against humanity. Research shows that there have been repeated, unisolated abuses committed by security forces since 2014, including “torture, the arbitrary detention of political opponents and anti-government protesters, and more than 8,000 extrajudicial executions.”[7] Maduro’s administration has denied access to information to anyone, including the United Nations, and it has denied the existence of a humanitarian crisis.[8] The National Assembly has expanded governmental power in the limitation of free speech and punishment of critics, and it rejected judiciary checks on the president.[9]

Since 2014, dozens of Venezuelans have died and thousands have been arrested in protests against Maduro’s government.[10] The military has remained on Maduro’s side, partially due to Maduro granting the military a license to run a global drug-trafficking operation exporting cocaine.[11] Five military coup attempts have been blocked, and a “Cuban-run intelligence apparatus has proved brutally effective in rooting out internal opposition,” with the civilian opposition leadership jailed and a believed 600 military officers under detention.[12] Recently, an opposition activist died under suspicious circumstances while in the custody of Maduro’s regime. The government said that Alban, the opposition, threw himself from a building while evading justice, but opposition leaders do not believe the story and claim that there are more than 100 Venezuelans being held as political prisoners, sometimes for years.[13]

In response, the United States has recently sanctioned Maduro’s wife and other officials in his inner circle to put pressure on Maduro and his socialist policies.[14] This is in addition to the dozens of sanctions issued on other individuals, including Maduro, on allegations of human rights abuses, corruption, and drug trafficking.[15] Trump also, while not speaking to if the U.S. would do so, suggested that the military could easily topple Maduro in a coup. While other countries, such as Peru, do not want to intervene militarily, there are other initiatives to put pressure on Venezuela to restore democracy in the works.[16]

All of these factors leave Venezuela highly susceptible to a regime change. Other countries have stated a preference for democracy and disdain for Maduro’s system. Even with no military action as of yet, sanctions show an interest in the issue, and nearby countries are desperate for the refugee flow to stop. Internally, means of provision for individuals has been lost, and there is a mounting crisis in terms of security, both in food and necessities and government sanctioned forces. It remains to be seen what those remaining in Venezuela can and will do.


[1] BBC. (2018, August 29). Venezuela profile – Timeline. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[2] Rogoff, K. (2018, September 05). Venezuela: How is the region coping with its collapse? Retrieved October 01, 2018, from

[3] Witschge, L., & Chughtai, A. (2018, September 13). Venezuela’s crisis by numbers. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[4] Ibid, 2

[5] Tharoor, I. (2018, August 23). Analysis | Venezuela’s refugee exodus is the biggest crisis in the hemisphere. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[6] Brown, K. (Ed.). (2018, October 15). Venezuela crisis hits food markets and a morgue. Retrieved October 16, 2018, from

[7] Sant, S. V. (2018, September 27). Latin American Countries Urge Investigation Of Venezuela For Crimes Against Humanity. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[8] Menna, S. (2018, September 24). Access to Information Denied in Venezuela. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[9] Human Rights Watch. (2017, September 12). Tightening the Grip | Concentration and Abuse of Power in Chávez’s Venezuela. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[10] Ibid, 3

[11] Ibid, 2

[12] Diehl, J. (2018, September 30). Can Latin America handle Venezuela’s collapse without the U.S.? Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[13] The Associated Press. (2018, October 09). A Venezuelan Dissident Dies in Custody, and Questions Emerge. Retrieved October 10, 2018, from

[14] Wroughton, L. (2018, September 26). U.S. sanctions Venezuela officials, Trump slams Maduro. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[15] Staff and agencies. (2018, September 25). Trump says Venezuela ‘could be toppled very quickly’ by military coup. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from

[16] Graham, D. (2018, September 25). Peru wants no military solution on Venezuela: President. Retrieved October 1, 2018, from