Juan Guaidó, the 35-year old opposition leader of the National Assembly, recently appointed himself Venezuela’s interim president after declaring the presidency of Nicolas Maduro illegitimate.The U.S., Canada, and a bloc of regional countries dubbed ‘The Lima Group’ swiftly supported his claim.
Since Guaido’s unprecedented move, there are daily reports of death, arrests, and protests, as thousands of Venezuelans march on the streets in an intensifying fight with the police.
“I think all of these pieces are lining up for something terrible,” Brian Price, Senior Reporter of Real Vision and Executive Producer of the new documentary “Venezuela: State of Disaster,” told Yahoo Finance in the video above.
“You can't have one country, two presidents and every single world power trying to back their man in a way that doesn't lead to something violent and potentially horrific,” explained Price.
When Nicolas Maduro became President of Venezuela in 2013, he inherited an economy on a steep decline — and in the years since, has driven the country to complete collapse. Hyperinflation has rendered currency worthless, hospitals have been shuttered, and manufacturers have stopped producing goods. The deterioration has triggered a large-scale humanitarian crisis where Venezuelans suffer from malnutrition, wait in line for basic food and goods, and die from preventable illnesses.
Millions have fled the country, crossing the border into Colombia by the thousands each day. The crisis sparked violent protests as the opposition calls for Maduro to step down.
Oil and AK-47s
Venezuela’s biggest tangible and marketable asset to the world is their oil. Approximately 300 billion barrels of oil — the most in the world — lies underneath Venezuela’s feet. And while oil could be the solution to their economic crisis, the country lacks the resources and the leadership to get it. Of the oil rigs that are operational, only 50 percent of the oil rigs fully function.
Maduro maintains his stranglehold over the country through the corruption of the country’s constitution, the drug trade, and the support of the military, made rich by Maduro’s corruption. They are armed with AK-47s from Russia, tear gas from Brazil, and tanks from China, according to Price.
Instead of relying on some of the land’s natural resources such as diamonds and coffee, the Venezuelan government has doubled down on their most precious asset, relying solely on oil revenue. As oil prices have collapsed, so too has Venezuela
Once the richest country in South America, Venezuela is now the poorest and most dangerous on the continent — and on the brink of global intervention. Despite major Western powers backing Guaido’s claim, countries like China, Turkey, and, most notably, Russia are backing Maduro and his current regime.
‘Russia is a shark right now’
Russia has doled out over $10 billion in financial assistance to Venezuela, keeping the South American country in its debt. Venezuela has continued to provide oil to Russia, while also providing the nation a military stronghold in the western hemisphere.
“Russia is a shark right now, and they see chum in the water in the form of Venezuela,” said Price. “They are going to fight to keep Maduro exactly where he is.”
Amid the geopolitical posturing, Venezuelans struggle to survive. At least 40 people have recently died protesting the Maduro administration. Another 850 people were detained, according to the United Nations Human Rights Council. The situation in Venezuela is going to get worse before it gets better, according to Price, as history tends to repeat itself, even the most dangerous points of our world’s past.
“I think we could very well be at the beginning of Cuban missile crisis 2.0. all the pieces are in place,” said Price. He explains that a civil war is “what Putin wants”. “War undermines democracy in this instance. It undermines stability. It creates chaos and it offers Putin more of an opportunity to operate within the Americas, to take advantage of that chaos.”
Nevertheless, Price says there is still hope for Venezuela.
“This is a country that's not beyond repair,” he said. “If people aren't desperate for food, and for water, and for opportunity, and the crime subsides a little bit, I think you could see tremendous gains and tremendous opportunity in time to come.
“It's going to take a lot of effort, it's going to take a lot of money, and it's going to take a lot of patience. But with those things, I think a new regime could be successful, and I think people will start to recognize Venezuela for the country it is.”
Kristin Myers contributed to this report.