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'Think of it as an ice cube': How Venezuela became a disaster state

This post has been updated.

National Assembly opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the interim president of Venezuela, receiving international support from the United States, Canada, and the EU. Further bolstering his claim is regional support from the Lima Group, a bloc of 12 countries that formed to resolve the crisis in Venezuela. Among its members are Argentina, Peru, Chile, and Brazil.

The socialist regime of Nicolas Maduro, backed by Russia, China, and Bolivia, quickly severed ties with the U.S. on Wednesday, ordering all diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours. President Trump dismissed the request, stating that the U.S. would only work with Guaido’s government and was considering fresh sanctions and other options — including force — if there was retaliation.

It’s the latest move in a country that has been embroiled in a political and socioeconomic crisis for years. Guaido’s declaration is a bold step that could cause two parallel governments to compete over running the the South American nation.

But it’s unclear who will back down first, and for now, Maduro is still backed by the country’s military, and holds control over the country’s oil. What happens next will likely be determined by those two key factors.

Venezuela currently controls over about 303 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, which is about 20 percent of the world’s total. Nevertheless, broken oil rigs and a mismanaged government have led to a rapid decline in production.

The South American nation’s dependence on a shoddy oil regime caused a deepening humanitarian crisis. With 98% of exports being oil and no trade occurring with other countries, military officers running the national oil company, PDVSA, are reportedly gathering to ask God for help.

“When you look at Venezuela’s economy right now and what’s happening, it’s gone from the richest nation in Latin America to what is now a primitive barter system,” Brian Price, Senior Reporter of Real Vision and Executive Producer of the new documentary “Venezuela: State of Disaster,” told Yahoo Finance (video above).

An ice-cream vendor remains by a roadblock during a protest against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, on June 14, 2017. (Photo: LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuela is ‘an ice cube’

The end result of the country’s decline, in terms of society, has been extreme poverty and hunger.

In 2017, the average Venezuelan citizen lost around 24 pounds in 2017, about 73 people were murdered a day. And the rule of law is also breaking down: According to the country’s Prosecutor General’s office, 98% of crimes in 2014 were not prosecuted.

Hyperinflation and the introduction of President Nicolas Maduro’s unique cryptocurrency has made the bolivar essentially worthless. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) noted that three million Venezuelans have sought refuge, hoping to find a new and safer place they can call home.

Price explained it is best to think of Venezuela “as an ice cube.  … The second you get that currency in your hand, it’s going to start melting and it’s going to start losing its value because of hyperinflation.”

A study made by Simón Bolivar University, Andrés Bello Catholic University and the Central University of Venezuela found that nearly 90% of the population lives in poverty. According to the Bloomberg Cafe con Leche Index, the price of a cup of coffee in Eastern Caracas costs 400 million bolivars. Pharmacy and grocery store shelves are bare. Fridges are empty.

An employee cleans at a supermarket in Valencia, Carabobo State, on May 5, 2017. (Photo: RONALDO SCHEMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)

Venezuelans ‘deserve a shot at happiness’

Quality of life is so low that one of the most prevalent and profitable enterprises in Venezuela is kidnapping. In one of the stories told in “Venezuela: State of Disaster,” Price talks to a man who met his wife on a kidnapping. “He said it very casually too,” said Price. “It was as if it was a normal thing. And he even was almost perplexed as to why I was so interested. You know, that’s just the way of life.”

All hope is not lost, however. After spending considerable time studying the country, Price argued Venezuela did not always depend on oil and may not have to in the future. Before the discovery of oil in the early twentieth century, the country made revenue from their gold, diamonds, cocoa, and coffee beans. And Venezuela, according to Price, also has the beaches to restore a booming tourist industry.

“I do think that there is a lot that could happen thereafter, very quickly, that could lead to some positivity for these people that, frankly, deserve a shot at happiness and a shot at life.”

Kristin Myers contributed to this post.

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