It’s difficult to describe the state of Venezuela today without coming across as a little hysterical. Phrases like “zombie movie set” and “post-apocalyptic hellscape” keep turning up in the accounts of recent visitors, who are staggered to see a society reach the levels of decay normally associated with wartime, but without a war.
In an engrossing recent account, The Wall Street Journal’s Anatoly Kurmanaev—who reported out of Caracas from 2013 until a few weeks ago—compared the nation’s state unfavorably with the Siberia of his youth in the 1990s:
Venezuela’s collapse has been far worse than the chaos that I experienced in the post-Soviet meltdown. As a young person, I was still able to get a good education in a public school with subsidized meals and decent free hospital treatment. By contrast, as the recession took hold in Venezuela, the so-called Socialist government made no attempt to shield health care and education, the two supposed pillars of its program.
The statistics of Venezuela’s implosion are at once mind-blowing and somehow not quite up to the task of expressing the full horror of what’s happening there. In a country that had been Latin America’s beacon of peace, stability, democracy, and development throughout the second half of the 20th century, about two-thirds now report involuntary weight loss due to hunger. Out of those who reported losing weight, the average loss was approximately 20 pounds last year.
That, amid all this, the sitting president was recently returned to office with 68 percent of the vote stands as its own sick joke. The election, it nearly goes without saying, was rigged. The opposition boycotted it, and virtually every large democracy and the organizations that represent them slammed it as grossly undemocratic and refused to recognize it: the EU, the U.S., Canada, the G7, every large country in Latin America. The measure of Venezuela’s democratic implosion is the list of countries that did recognize it: Cuba, Russia, Nicaragua, Bolivia, and Iran. Even Syria’s Bashar al-Assad took a break from his war to send Maduro a congratulatory message.