Senator Paterson on Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis

14 Feb Senator Paterson on Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis

I rise today to express my support for the people of Venezuela, who are currently experiencing what can only be described as a humanitarian catastrophe.

As recently as 2001, Venezuela was the wealthiest country in South America. It has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, and was once a stable democracy with a free press and an open political system.

Today the situation could not be more different.

After two decades of Hugo Chavez and Nicolas Maduro’s “21st Century Socialism”, Venezuela can now only be described as a failed state.

As of December 2018, year-on-year inflation was estimated to be 1.7 million per cent. The International Monetary Fund has forecast that this will increase to 10 million per cent in 2019.

Per-capita GDP is estimated to have fallen by 18 per cent in 2018, the third consecutive year of double digit declines.

This economic instability is causing profound hardship for Venezuelans, which is why more than 3 million people – almost 10 per cent of the population – have left the country since 2014

Reliable statistics about the situation within Venezuela are hard to come by, but the evidence that we do have is clear:

Almost 90 per cent of the country now lives below the poverty line, and more than half of all families are unable to meet basic food needs. One university study found that the average Venezuelan had lost 11kg in the past year.

The World Bank estimates that infant mortality has increased by almost 80 per cent since 2010. And a 2018 survey of 104 health facilities in Venezuela showed that 79 per cent lacked running water.

And when Government statistics were last released in 2017 they showed that pregnancy related deaths had increased by 66 per cent in the past year, cases of Maleria were up by 76 per cent, and Cases of the Zika virus had risen from 71 to over 59 thousand in 2015 alone.

The Maduro government’s response to these statistics was to fire the Health Minister who released them.

The human rights situation in Venezuela is no better.

According to Human Rights Watch: “No independent government institutions remain today in Venezuela to act as a check on executive power.”

Chavez and Maduro have stacked the courts with political cronies, jailed their political opponents, and ordered violent crackdown on protesters.

According to Penal Reform, a network of Venezuelan defence lawyers, there are currently 230 political prisoners in Venezuela. This includes former opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez, who is currently serving a 13 year sentence on trumped up charges from 2014.

According to Human Rights Watch, the state’s security and armed pro-government groups called “colectivos” have engaged in violent crackdown against demonstrators. And security forces have also engaged in serious abuses against detainees – these include severe beatings, electric shocks, asphyxiation, and sexual abuse – some of which amount to torture.

In 2018, state prosecutors even used newly enacted hate speech laws to charge three children who were only guilty of voicing opposition to the government on social media.

Make no mistake; this catastrophe is the direct result of the policies of both Hugo Chavez and his hand-picked successor, Nicolas Maduro.

From the moment Chavez was elected he began centralising power and silencing voices of dissent.

He nationalised industries, confiscated private businesses, and instituted price controls. When his economic policies resulted in shortages, he blamed “speculators and hoarders”.

He stacked state industries with his cronies and used the profits of the oil boom to subsidise his pet projects. By the time oil prices fell the economy had been so hollowed out, the once-productive industries so crippled, that nothing could prevent the catastrophe we are now witnessing.

The Australian government was right to officially recognise the leader of Venezuela’s National Assembly, Juan Guido, as the interim president.

Juan Guido has a strong claim to legitimacy that rests on articles 233, 333, and 350 of the Venezuelan constitution. Although Maduro was re-elected in 2018, the election was widely considered fraudulent. This is why Guido has not only been recognised by Australia, but by the majority of the democratic world.

We can only hope the Maduro regime heeds the call of the free world and relinquishes power so that the people of Venezuela can begin the long, slow road to recovery – as so many nations former socialist nations have had to do in the past.

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