SAN ANTONIO – You’ve seen it in the headlines. Venezuela is in crisis.
The South American country is in deep trouble. Its economy is crippled. The price of food and medications are too high for most people to buy. Just last weekend, at least four people died and hundreds more were hurt during a wave of violence in Venezuela's border regions.
Opposition activists were trying to bring food and medical supplies into the country that were being blocked by the government.
So how did Venezuela get here?
Dr. Betsy Smith, a professor at St. Mary's University who specializes in Latin American politics, said the current situation stems from when embattled President Nicolas Maduro came into power in 2013 after President Hugo Chavez died that same year. She said that's when the country went into an economic downfall caused by Maduro's socialist economic policies and monetary inflation.
“Eighty-five percent of the population to 90 percent of the population lives below the poverty line,” Smith said.
She said Maduro is currently acting as a dictator by not recognizing the outcome of the 2018 presidential elections, which, according to Smith, were fraudulent and unfair. Maduro held his inauguration in January 2019. In response, the National Assembly, dominated by the opposition, declared Juan Guaido as the legitimate president of Venezuela. Guaido was the president of the National Assembly.
The Maduro administration is still controlling all the government institutions, Smith said.
Maduro’s inauguration caused President Donald Trump and other major European leaders to announce that they don't recognize Maduro as the legitimate leader of Venezuela and that they support Guaido.
So why should we care about this in the U.S.?
Smith said there are several reasons, one of which is that the economic and political instability is problematic.
“If we lose Venezuela to a potential foe, like Russia or China, then we are losing one more area of influence,” Smith said.
Another reason is the massive refugee problem. According to the United Nations, there are currently 2.5 million Venezuelan refugees in Colombia, the U.S. and Mexico.
“In a humanitarian approach, these are people who deserve democracy and are starving,” Smith said. “They deserve our assistance.”
Smith said if the crisis gets worse, hundreds more Venezuelans could die or a civil war could erupt.
She said it's a tricky dance for the U.S. in terms of its involvement, as the U.S. has not had a positive history when it has intervened in other Latin American countries.
Smith said on a humanitarian level, the U.S should help. However, she fears that a military intervention could make matters worse.