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Venezuela Crisis

Updated January 24, 2024
Colombian police officers stand in front of people queueing to try to cross into Colombia from Venezuela through Simon Bolivar international bridge in Cucuta, Colombia, on January 24, 2018.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Supporters of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country's rightful interim ruler, take part in a rally against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 6, 2019.
Adriana Loureiro/Reuters
A man leans on an empty shelf at a Makro supermarket in Caracas, Venezuela, on August 4, 2015. Venezuelan supermarkets are increasingly being targeted by looters, as swollen lines and prolonged food shortages spark frustration in the OPEC nation struggling with an economic crisis. Shoppers routinely spend hours in lines to buy consumer staples ranging from corn flour to laundry soap, turning lines into venues for shoving matches and now more frequent attempts to plunder shops.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters
Opposition supporters unload humanitarian aid from a truck that was set on fire after clashes between opposition supporters and Venezuela's security forces at Francisco de Paula Santander bridge on the border line between Colombia and Venezuela as seen from Cucuta, Colombia, on February 23, 2019.
Marco Bello/Reuters
People walk across the Tachira River near the Simon Bolivar international bridge on the Colombian-Venezuelan border, as seen from the outskirts of Cucuta, Colombia, on March 23, 2019.
Carlos Eduardo Ramirez/Reuters
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido takes part in a rally during his visit in Maracaibo, Venezuela, on April 13, 2019.
Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
Militia members take part in a ceremony to mark the 17th anniversary of the return to power of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez after a coup attempt and National Militia Day in Caracas, Venezuela, on April 13, 2019.
Miraflores Palace/Handout via Reuters

Hugo Chavez came to power in 1998 and leveraged Venezuela’s immense oil reserves and rising crude prices to provide subsidized goods and services to the Venezuelan people, cutting the extreme poverty rate by 15 percent. However, years of economic mismanagement and corruption under Chavez transformed the capably-managed state-owned PDVSA oil company into a dysfunctional, corrupt, and bloated institution run by military and political allies and lacking experienced technicians. Chavez also deepened Venezuela’s dependence on oil exports, with fuel as a percentage of total exports rising from around 71 percent in 1998 to close to 98 percent in 2013. Therefore, the collapse of global oil prices in 2014 led to a rapid economic decline.

After Chavez’s death in 2013, then–Vice President Nicolás Maduro assumed the presidency and was subsequently elected to office. His government attempted to address the economic crisis by printing money. This policy pushed the country into years-long hyperinflation, which was on pace to hit ten million percent in 2019 and led to a de facto two-currency system in which the U.S. dollar is dominant. By 2014, large-scale anti-government protests erupted across the country. In 2015, voters expressed dissatisfaction by electing the first opposition-controlled National Assembly in two decades, setting the stage for a standoff between the legislature and Maduro.

Maduro was reelected to a second six-year term in May 2018, despite boycotts and accusations of fraud in a widely condemned election, including by a group of fourteen countries known as the Lima Group, and was officially sworn into office in January 2019. Two weeks later, on January 15, the National Assembly declared Maduro’s election illegitimate, and opposition leader Juan Guaidó announced that he would assume office as interim president until free and fair elections could be held, in accordance with succession rules in the 1999 constitution. Guaidó was quickly recognized as interim president by the United States, Canada, most of the European Union, and the Organization of American States. However, Maduro retained the support of several major countries, including China, Cuba, Russia, and Turkey.

The resulting political standoff saw an increase in U.S. sanctions against the Maduro government, including targeting oil shipments to Cuba—Maduro has increasingly relied on Cuban military and intelligence support to stay in power—as well as threats of sanctions on third parties linked to Venezuela’s oil sector and the discussion of potential military intervention, which ultimately did not occur. Russia, meanwhile, continued to support the Maduro government, sending Russian troops to Venezuela in March 2019 and helping the government evade sanctions on the oil industry. China continued to back the Maduro government, offering to help rebuild the national power grid.

Amid a humanitarian crisis, thousands fled the country daily by early 2019, mostly on foot. Exacerbating Venezuela’s economic woes, its poorly maintained infrastructure led to country-wide blackouts in March 2019 that left millions without power. In April 2019, after years of denying the existence of a humanitarian crisis and refusing to allow foreign aid to enter the country—calling aid shipments a political ploy by the United States—Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro allowed the entry of a shipment of emergency supplies from the Red Cross.

Since the situation deteriorated and the crisis escalated in 2015, an estimated seven million Venezuelans have fled the country, with six million resettling in other Latin American countries, including nearly 2.5 million in Colombia alone. Overall, Venezuela represents the world’s largest international displacement crisis. The exodus also caused a regional humanitarian crisis as neighboring governments struggled to absorb refugees and asylum seekers. Moreover, because the government has been unable to provide social services, Venezuelans face severe food and medicine shortages and the continuing spread of infectious diseases.


With Maduro’s cementation of political control and continued economic stagnation, there has been a slight resurgence of outward migration, and the United States continues to encounter high numbers of Venezuelan migrants at its southern border. Furthermore, Latin American countries continue to struggle to accommodate asylum seekers and provide access to services. The United States is interested in mitigating the humanitarian crisis and preventing further destabilization of the region. However, the U.S. State Department also has deep concerns regarding Maduro’s human rights record, over which he is being investigated for crimes against humanity by the International Criminal Court (ICC), and the employment of armed gangs, known as colectivos, to suppress opposition. Armed groups also operate across the porous Colombia-Venezuela border, complicating efforts to bring peace and stability to Colombia. However, Maduro has recently facilitated talks between Colombian President Gustavo Petro and armed groups. Finally, Venezuela’s allies and partners, including China, Cuba, India, Iran, Russia, and Turkey, undercut the U.S. effort to exert pressure on the country.

Recent Developments

Despite the increased pressure and sanctions of early 2019, Maduro managed to maintain and even solidify his grip on power. Maduro suddenly implemented economic reforms, including ending price controls, allowing dollar transactions, slashing bolivar currency circulation, initiating murky privatizations, and starting to publish economic indicators after a four-year hiatus. In September 2021, Venezuela announced the launch of a new currency, dropping six zeros from its bolivar notes. While these drastic shifts in economic policy left Venezuelans struggling to secure bolivars and adapt in the short term, hyperinflation slightly subsided. The bolivar stabilized in early 2022, with annualized inflation briefly falling below 50 percent, though more than 60 percent of transactions were carried out in dollars. After falling [PDF] by 75 percent since 2014, Venezuela achieved 15 percent growth in 2022, the highest in Latin America. However, inflation began to slowly rise again in late 2022, and by 2023, consumer prices were tripling annually, an improvement from hyperinflation but still one of the highest inflation rates in the world.

Politically, international support for Guaidó has evaporated, with the Biden administration following the lead of the Venezuelan opposition in revoking recognition of Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate leader. Meanwhile, Maduro’s position has somewhat recovered internationally; Western officials have reopened dialogue, and he has benefitted from the election of leaders more friendly to him in Mexico, Colombia, and Brazil.

Looking forward, the opposition has decided to contest the 2024 presidential election after years of boycotts and grapples with maintaining unity while individual opposition figures try to assert leadership. Maria Corina Machado has emerged as the most popular opposition figure, though the government has barred her from holding public office. Furthermore, the government continues to repress the opposition and has retaken full control of the National Electoral Council (CNE), meaning elections will not be free or fair.

After a pandemic-induced decline, Venezuelan migration is on the rise again, with a record number of Venezuelans attempting to cross the Darien Gap to Central America in 2022, most en route to the United States. While the numbers do not match the thousands per day that fled at the peak of the crisis, migration still constitutes a major challenge for a region that has already absorbed millions of Venezuelans.

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