Within minutes of declaring last year’s election fraudulent and naming himself interim president of Venezuela on January 23, national assembly chief Juan Guaidó gained recognition of his government from the United States, Canada, and a number of Central and South American countries. Other countries have since followed suit, including several member states of the European Union. With the backing of more and more ordinary citizens and increasing international support, Guaidó may be able to force a new election in the hope of replacing President Nicolás Maduro, whose incompetence and autocratic policies have plunged the nation into crisis.
The potential change in leadership would come as a welcome development for the millions of Venezuelans who have suffered under Maduro’s rule. Confronted as he took office with a drop in global oil prices that had sunk the Venezuelan economy, Maduro made a bad situation far worse by imposing ill-advised price-control measures and attempting to arrest runaway inflation by simply erasing five zeroes from the nation’s currency. Venezuela now suffers the world’s worst hyperinflation, at 1.3 million percent in the past year. A typical month’s wages buys three cans of Coke. As a consequence, the nation is slowly starving, with adults losing weight on the “Maduro diet” and children succumbing to malnourishment and disease. Protests dominate public life; the government has often met them with violent suppression, arbitrary arrests, and the torture of detainees. Maduro retains the support of the military, and also controls a vigilante-like security force. Human-rights activists have seen their homes raided or have been disappeared. Media outlets that might once have covered these abuses have been shut down. Since the humanitarian catastrophe began in 2014, more than three million Venezuelans have fled to neighboring countries, which are scrambling to manage the influx.