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Illustration by Rohan Joseph Sabu

The U.S.’s Savior Complex Won’t Help Venezuela

After eight years of economic collapse, international journalists and finance experts have declared that there is almost no chance for recovery at this point for Venezuela. Hear from your fellow NYUAD Venezuelans how they feel about this crisis.

Mar 6, 2023

In March 2022, the New York Times published a book review for their correspondent William Neuman’s report on Venezuela called THINGS ARE NEVER SO BAD THAT THEY CAN’T GET WORSE: Inside the Collapse of Venezuela. From the review, the reader infers that Venezuela is plagued by severe corruption and an overarching “social schizophrenia”, both of which are pointed out as the main reasons Venezuela’s recovery has stagnated. However, the review does not mention the severe sanctions imposed on Venezuela, not only by the U.S. but also by the European Union and its partners and satellites. These sanctions were supposed to put a leash on the Venezuelan authorities after they used brute force to quiet down a series of protests in 2013 and then again in 2019.
Recently, a new report from Neuman was published in The Atlantic, where the journalist claims that today there is new hope for reset in Venezuela because development was welcomed by the Biden administration, eager to undo the Trump Administration’s policies that only exacerbated its socio-political and economic collapse, while also failing to restore Venezuela's democratic processes. The author also lays emphasis on the “punitive sanctions” imposed by the Trump administration that targeted President Maduro’s unlawful conduct and his suppression of all leaders of the opposition, particularly American-supported Interim President Juan Guaidó. That said, the central message of the article remains unchanged: Venezuela’s crisis is mostly caused by internal turmoil and can only be fixed by external intervention.
At first glance, it appears to be another American mission propelled by the United States’ savior-complex. Their notorious foreign policies of military intervention in the Middle East have not proven to be effective. The U.S. has historically imposed sanctions and deployed military forces to Middle Eastern countries to suppress regimes of terror, but that has done nothing substantial besides positing the U.S.’s political hegemony in the region. The similarities with the Venezuelan situation are clear: externally enforced sanctions are putting more strain on the citizens than the authorities they are targeting. The narrative of the Western media has not done much to disprove these suspicions. However, that might not be entirely true.
Carlotta Suarez, Class of 2026, shared that she is confused. Information about Venezuela is scarce and unreliable even to the Venezuelans. Suarez and her immediate family have spent their entire life in Venezuela even though many of her relatives have migrated to several other countries. “From pictures you can see before, at family gatherings there would be 60 people. Now — no more than 20,” she stated. It is the poverty and the lack of all kinds of public social services including healthcare, a state-managed power grid, and educational institutions that drive people out of Venezuela. The system Suarez describes is highly discriminatory: if you cannot afford private education or healthcare, you will simply be left without them. Many public schools have completely shut their doors and public hospitals lack even basic equipment. The best facilities are reserved for government and army officials only.
As she described the dire living conditions of Venezuelans, Suarez did not seem to be disheartened. Apparently, it is how most Venezuelans feel now, pushing them against the idea of taking concrete action against the system. “It is not that they do not want to,” she explained. “It is more like ‘What can we do?’ You see, before 2020 there was this trend of things getting worse and worse and worse. So people thought ‘Okay, we should take action.’ But now, the situation is not better, but it has stabilized. There is some economic growth, the middle class is starting to appear again, minimum wages are increasing… So the argument people have is ‘It’s getting better now, so — no point in doing anything.’ ”
Maduro’s party has practically no opposition at this point. It does not have a particularly strong support either because when living in such a dysfunctional political system, one cannot but realize that the government is not there to take care of its citizens the way it should. Suarez shared that people’s main hopes lie, indeed, with the U.S. intervening in some way. She said they are all aware that the main reason the U.S. has interest in helping Venezuela is the oil reserves. She mentioned that there has been controversy over the fact that the U.S. is already involved in exporting oil from Venezuela anyway. “But people are glad for it, actually,” Suarez elaborated. “Because that means money is coming in [to the Venezuelan economy]... And we even make fun of the [U.S.-supported] opposition, but generally people just don’t care. There is a nationwide political apathy but as long as there are improvements and new opportunities, people think ‘Okay, keep them coming.’ ”
In her own opinion, it seems almost impossible for a local force to change the regime. External help, however, might also not be enough and fully welcomed because of Venezuela’s colonial past. Part of Maduro’s propaganda has always been highlighting the importance of the liberation movement in 1813 led by Simón Bolívar, and Suarez even remembers instances of him equating himself as the new liberator of Venezuela. Therefore, Venezuelans are still cautious of whose help they would accept and in what way.
Granted, the villains of the story really are Chavez’s and Maduro’s governments, but international political powers are not guiltless. The U.S. sanctions, specifically the extremely restrictive ones from the Trump administration, have led to a severe drop in the productivity of Venezuelan oil rigs, which remain the main source of income for the country, leading to unprecedented hyperinflation. Additionally, this cut off all foreign investments, which in turn led to an increase in unemployment and a worsening of the already quite bleak migration crisis. And while these sanctions were supposed to suffocate the Venezuelan government and army financially, they only helped Maduro become stronger. How? They allowed him to play the savior.
All that the sanctions did was cripple the overall Venezuelan economy. In order to keep the Venezuelan Bolivar below 20 VEF for one USD, Maduro started pouring millions of dollars into local banks, so that they had money to operate with. It is an old economic trick governments use to handle financial crises on the free market, called fiat money, which refers to money that is not backed by produce but rather by governmental promise. As indicated by Carlotta Suarez, this effort did stabilize the economy of Venezuela in its current state, and what followed was the establishment of solar power plants to power remote villages. However, the only shadow cast over this initiative is the fact that it is government funded. While it is proving to be a rather effective way to quickly remedy an obviously huge issue, this model of economic governance will not help the country recover sustainably.
Biden has now opened up to negotiations and is willing to loosen some of the restrictions in exchange for more democratic conduct on Venezuela’s side, which is a promising development of the situation. However, in the meantime, Maduro has managed to weaken his opposition, so there is no alternative for the U.S. to support democracy. Not only that, but Venezuela’s corrupt judicial system has found a way to keep international human rights organizations at bay, meaning Maduro’s government could legally stall any attempts of international interference.
Venezuela is indeed stuck in a vicious cycle of violence, poverty, and international power plays. Only transparency and accountability from the countries running to Venezuela’s rescue will ensure that the country will truly develop to its full potential. Otherwise, we will be dealing with yet another case of neo-colonialism.
Yana Peeva is Senior Columns Editor. Email her at
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