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Venezuela Economic Crisis Worsens

The Maduro government says Venezuela has been a victim of economic sabotage and that an economic war is being waged against it by the private sector linked to the US
There are still long lineups for the government’s subsidized food bags provided through a state distribution system.There are still long lineups for the government’s subsidized food bags provided through a state distribution system.

The economic crisis in Venezuela has sent the country spiraling into a humanitarian disaster, as access to food and medicine and other needed supplies has become more and more difficult.

But the political landscape is also in turmoil, with a recent controversial election to establish a constituent assembly that has the power to change the constitution condemned by some outside observers as the most significant step by President Nicolas Maduro to turn the country into an autocratic state, CBC reported.

The origins of the new assembly can be traced to 2015, when the opposition won two-thirds of the seats in the National Assembly, the country's parliament. Amid such political gridlock, critics say Maduro began chipping away at the authority of the National Assembly, using the Supreme Court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, to take away its powers.

Earlier this year, the government, through the top court, tried to take away all powers of the National Assembly. What followed were four months of sometimes violent protests that have left more than 100 people dead. The government has said this new assembly will help restore order.  

Maduro has also claimed that his new constituent assembly will help bring peace to the region.

"The constituent assembly, they say, that will be a means to deepen the revolution and advance the constitution further along those lines, but also provide a space and a means to bring peace to the country that has been divided," said Jennifer McCoy, a political science professor who specializes in Latin American politics at Georgia State University in Atlanta.

Economically Destitute?

The Maduro government says Venezuela has been a victim of economic sabotage and that an economic war is being waged against it by the private sector linked to the US.

Certainly, the crash of the price of oil, which accounts for about 95% of the country's export earnings, dealt a significant blow to the economy. But so, too, say some critics, has the nationalization of parts of the private sector, including the oil industry, where output has fallen by 400,000 barrels a day, according to Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Meanwhile, observers say lower productivity, mismanagement and massive corruption have led to triple-digit inflation and an overvalued currency. Foreign companies that are not being paid for their products and services are pulling out, while importers can't get access to dollars.

"It's not simply the fact the price of oil has gone down, it's that they have very dysfunctional economic policies that mean a lot of the dollars get taken away in corruption," said David Smilde, a senior fellow at the Washington Office on Latin America, a research and advocacy organization. "And that's led to a huge problem of scarcity and inflation."

Crisis Affecting Venezuelans

Hardly any Venezuelan can afford to buy enough food, and almost three-quarters of the population have lost weight in the last year, according to some studies. The country has also experienced record levels of child malnutrition and a severe spike in child mortality. "People are really going without; people live day to day," Smilde said.

Where empty shelves and lineups at supermarkets used to be a common sight, now the shelves are stocked, but the stores are empty of shoppers, Smilde said. The difference is that skyrocketing inflation means prices are unaffordable for more people.

But there are still long lineups for the government's subsidized food bags provided through a state distribution system.

Medicine and health care supplies, too, continue to be in short supply (and most can't afford them anyway) while basics like shampoo have become luxuries. Diseases once thought to be under control, such as malaria, diphtheria and AIDS, have made a comeback.

Some recent public opinion polls put government support around 20%. Many of those still loyal to the government believe they have benefited since Chavez came to power.

Thousands of Venezuelans have already left the country as the economic and political crisis has deepened in the last two years, and observers fear the recent escalation of unrest could spark a massive refugee crisis.

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