The current civil unrest began with a student protest in the north western state of Táchira. An attempted rape on a university campus in the city of San Cristobal led to wide spread demonstrations which have revealed, among other issues, Venezuelans discontent with current crime rates, poverty levels and access to basic goods and services.
In the 2013 Global Peace Index Venezuela was ranked 128 out of 162 countries and had the fourth highest homicide rate in the world at 45 per 100,000. This ranking was due to, among other factors, high rates of perceived criminality in society, access to weapons, violent crimes and a poor functioning of government.
Venezuela’s economy faces serious challenges. Its current inflation rate is among the fastest growing in the world and hovers around 56%, thrusting consumer prices to unsustainable levels. An increasing complaint among Venezuelans has been the declining access to basic goods with a common wait of several hours before entrance to local retail outlets. Making matters worse, widespread food shortages have meant that many items are no longer available for purchase.
As demonstrations continue the violence increases. The current death toll has surpassed 40 and hundreds of protestors have been arrested. As a result, the UN rights office urged a probe into Venezuela’s violence, and has called for dialogue to resolve the crisis. Several regional organizations including the Organization of American States and the Union of South American Nations have supported the need for mediation and in mid April the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, joined foreign ministers from Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador to attend peace dialogues between government and opposition representatives. The discussions aim to advance the National Pacification Plan along with a Truth Commission designed to evaluate the cases of violence surrounding opposition barricades.
The persistent levels of violence threaten Venezuela’s shaky economy and jeopardize its political composition. Social policies heavily dependent on oil revenue threaten to further undermine stability. According to the World Bank, Venezuela’s high dependency on oil exports makes it particularly vulnerable to a shift in oil prices and given that many of the social initiatives promoted by former president Chavez, and supported by current president Nicolas Maduro, are dependent on oil revenues, a change in global oil demand may prove devastating.
Venezuela currently spends 9.9% of its GDP, or $1,425 per capita on violence containment. Maduro’s reliance on military force to suppress the demonstrations will offer a provisional solution to a complex problem. Without addressing the deep rooted causes of discontent; economic and social instability, crime and violence, Venezuela’s current disturbances threaten to intensify.
Citizen insecurity is the greatest barrier to development in Latin America, according the UNDP report.
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