There is no question that Venezuela is in very serious difficulties and has been for the last couple of years. The problem is that it's almost impossible to get a balanced, nuanced report on this, in any major Anglophone media outlet, almost all of which, are ferociously hostile to Venezuela's Left-Wing government.
The few reason critics, are distributed in comparatively small publications. Gabriel Hetland, for example, in a balanced piece for the Nation, entitled 'How severe is Venezuela's crisis?', reports that, while 'Venezuela is in the midst of a severe crisis ... mainstream media have consistently misrepresented and significantly exaggerated the severity of the crisis.'
Without question, the biggest problem facing the Venezuelan government, is the precipitous drop in global oil prices, due to OPEC decision to dramatically increase production. A decision that was clearly not driven by economic motives.
As Max Ajl writes for 'In these times', 'plummeting oil revenues mean that Venezuela received 70 million dollars in oil export revenues in February 2016, as against 3 billion dollars in January 2014.' The second major factor in the country's problems, is the exchange rate. Since 2003, the government has used currency controls block capital flight. As Bloomberg reports, it is imposed a variable exchange rate system. This means that dollars are less expensive relative to the bolivar, when purchasing priority goods, including food, medicine and car parts, but far more costly when buying other goods, or when purchasing dollars on the black market.
This has created opportunities for corruption. You can buy dollars cheaply by pretending to import billions of dollars worth of medicines and sell them dearly on the non preferential exchange rate. Thus, private sector arbitrage has contributed to medicine shortages, but it has also allowed criminal operators in the black market to drive up the cost of dollars and thus, helped drive up inflation. This, as Mark Weisbrot writes for The Huffington Post, has 'fueled an inflation-depreciation spiral since the fall of 2012'.
The problem is not state Socialism then, but a policy intended to stop financial panics that is simply enabled spivs to turn a quick buck. Maduro, recognizing this, has, as the Financial Times reports, begun the process of devaluing the currency and lifting some price controls. Importantly, the government has also sought to protect people from the effects of this, by raising the minimum wage and improving food subsidies.
Other factors that contributing to the crisis are contigent. At the worst drought in 47 years, drying up the dams and causing an energy crisis for example. And one of the claims of starvation, as the NGO Food First explains in an in-depth report on Venezuela's crisis: '... there's not an overall food shortage - food is in abundance, with distribution serving a bottleneck.' What is missing is not food, but certain, particular, essential goods, which have been kept off the shelves. The handful of companies which make these goods have a great deal of power and they say that the government's price controls disincentivise them from distributing the needed goods. But many of those goods are not even price-regulated, and all those that are, price increases have not stimulated more availability. Polar, one of the major firms producing these essential items, is owned by a member of the Right-Wing opposition.
The problems now unfolding, nonetheless take place against a significant backdrop of progress. In 2015, the FAO noted that the government had met its millennium development goal of halving hunger and driving down undernourishment, by 'increasing its national interventions and its level of international cooperation'. That is, unlike the old regime, it used petroleum resources address popular needs.
The Obama administration, picking up where Bush failed, decided that this was a moment to push for regime change in Venezuela. As Mark Weisbrot wrote for The Guardian, '... there's $5 m in the 2014 US federal budget for funding opposition activities inside Venezuela, and this is almost certainly the tip of the iceberg - adding to the hundreds of millions of dollars of overt support over the past 15 years.'
In 2015, the Obama administration issued an executive order, declaring Venezuela a threat to US national security and imposing new sanctions. The basis of US government rationales for intervention, is a rising violence in last couple of years, particularly due to deaths occurring during violent Right-Wing opposition protests in 2014. As George Ciccariello-Maher wrote for Jacobin 'The pretext for these sanctions is so-called human rights abuses that occurred more than a year ago, during a wave of street protests against the government of Nicolas Maduro ... the protests were hardly spontaneous ... The means were far from peaceful ... while many of the police responsible for violence were arrested, the same can't be said for the protesters who, for example, decapitated motorcyclists with barbed wire and sniped at police from rooftops.'
The nature of the violence in Venezuela has been widely misreported according to Roberto Lovato writing for Al Jazeera America, who points out the long history of violent efforts by the Right-Wing opposition to resist the social changes enacted by Chavez, culminating in a violence of recent protests. This scene of opposition violence and sabotage is barely alluded to in mainstream reporting.
The absence of context, the white washing of the opposition, the unhinged apocalyptic language used about Venezuela, and the open call for US intervention, after it has been effectively intervening for years, tend to undermine any criticisms coming from the major international media.