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Venezuelans Face Humanitarian Crisis Amid Political One

Venezuelans Face Humanitarian Crisis Amid Political One

Story Highlights

  • 15% of Venezuelans are satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare
  • 71% lacked enough money to afford food at times in past year
  • 47% report having lacked enough money for adequate shelter

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- As Venezuela's two presidents compete for power in the country's escalating political crisis, everyday Venezuelans are facing a crisis of their own: survival. With critical medicine shortages forcing many Venezuelans to turn to the black market for lifesaving drugs, a record-low 15% of Venezuelans currently say they are satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare in their city or area.

Line graph. A record-low 15% of Venezuelans are satisfied with the availability of quality healthcare.

These data come from Gallup's most recent survey of the country, conducted Sept. 27-Nov. 28, a few months before Juan Guaido was sworn in as interim president of Venezuela on Jan. 23. Guaido is the head of the country's opposition and the president of the Venezuelan National Assembly. His assumption of the presidency was a direct challenge to Nicolas Maduro, who has presided over the country since former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died in 2013. Several governments around the globe, including the U.S., have recognized Guaido, while the Russian and Chinese governments have voiced support for Maduro.

Maduro's tenure has been characterized by economic chaos in the oil-rich country, related to the steep drops in the price of petroleum and economic policies that have done more harm than good. For years before the 2014 downturn in the price of petroleum, the Venezuelan government had forced industries to produce at a loss to keep the price of consumer goods low, eventually resulting in whole sectors of the domestic economy being devastated. This left Venezuelans dependent on imports of these goods and more vulnerable to price increases, because of the declining value of their currency. The result of these policies and petroleum price decreases has been extensive shortages of even the most basic necessities.

At the time Maduro took power, for example, roughly half of the country was dissatisfied with the availability of quality healthcare. Throughout Maduro's time as president, this percentage has grown, with 83% now saying they are dissatisfied. This growing dissatisfaction is likely attributable to widely publicized shortages of medicines and medical supplies, which have led to a collapse of the country's healthcare system.

Securing Food and Shelter a Struggle for Many Venezuelans

In addition to a lack of medical care, many Venezuelans also struggle to afford food and shelter. A full 71% of Venezuelans report not having had enough money to afford food at times within the past year, and 47% say at times, they have lacked the money for shelter during the same period.

Line graph. More than seven in 10 Venezuelans struggled to afford food in the past year, and 47% struggled to afford shelter.

These numbers, while shocking, are still lower than the record-high 80% in 2016 who said they lacked money for food and the 52% in 2017 who said they had not had money for shelter at some point in the past year. The declines from these highs are likely to related to actions that Maduro has taken to ensure his popularity among Venezuelans.

In an effort to offset food and medicine shortages, Maduro has increased the country's minimum wage by several thousand percent and attempted to secure the loyalty of his supporters through simple handouts of goods. These handouts first took place in 2016, helping to offset the worst of the food shortages among the poorest Venezuelans but doing little to address the underlying problems. Maduro continued the handouts and promised access to housing for Venezuelans in the runup to the presidential election, which occurred on May 20 of last year.

Venezuelans' Satisfaction With Their Living Standards Is Low

Venezuelans' satisfaction with their living standards tells a story similar to that of their ability to afford food and shelter. The percentage of Venezuelans satisfied with their standard of living began to decline in 2013, with the decline continuing through 2016, when 18% said they were satisfied. At least part of this decline is attributable to hyperinflation, which has plagued the country for several years, peaking at 1.3 million percent in 2018.

Maduro's systematic distribution of food and other basic goods in 2016, as well as his promise of additional housing, was part of an effort to offset the impact of hyperinflation. This effort helps explain the increase in Venezuelans' satisfaction with their standard of living, though it remains low, with roughly a third currently satisfied.

Line graph. Barely more than one in three Venezuelans are satisfied with their standard of living.

When asked if their standard of living is getting better or worse, the majority of Venezuelans, 60% say it is getting worse. As with their assessments of current standards of living and their ability to afford food and shelter, Venezuelans were most negative in 2016. Maduro's handout programs are again responsible for an increase in optimism.

Line graph. Majorities of Venezuelans have been pessimistic about their living standards since 2015.

Bottom Line

While Maduro's efforts to address food and medicine shortages may have contributed to a short-lived reprieve for Venezuelans, these programs have not addressed the underlying and vast economic issues the country faces.

Such issues are still clearly visible in Venezuelans' dissatisfaction with the availability of quality medical care. Maduro's government has attempted to mitigate the pain of food and shelter shortages among some in the country, to bolster his support. However, the collapse in value of Venezuela's currency prevents the government from acquiring medications and medical supplies from abroad, highlighting the economic crisis the country is experiencing.

This ongoing crisis favors the opposition under Guaido, as does the support of other governments around the globe. However, Maduro has managed to maintain the loyalty of a key group in Venezuela's elite, the military. Maduro has done this by installing high-ranking military officers in key positions within the country's economy, which has allowed them to grow wealthy. As long as the Venezuelan military continues to support Maduro or at least does not take action to remove him, he will likely continue his hold on power.

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