THE WORST HUMANITARIAN crisis in modern Venezuelan history is unfolding against the backdrop of a power struggle between President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Because Maduro's government has refused to publish basic data, it is virtually impossible to know the full scale of the disaster. But human rights organizations, independent agencies, and journalists on the ground have painted a gruesome picture of a country in economic ruin, with crumbling infrastructure leading to chronic power blackouts and residents unable to meet basic human needs.
Food shortages began in earnest in 2015, when supermarket shelves went empty. Venezuelans reported waiting hours to get the few items available for purchase each day.
While that part of the crisis has lessened in the past year, hyperinflation and the price of food have risen severely. As a result, many Venezuelans face a double bind: Either they cannot find basic staples or they cannot afford them.
In a study published in 2018 by a group of Venezuelan universities, 61 percent of survey respondents said they went to bed hungry on a regular basis, with 89 percent saying they did not have enough money to buy food. Over 60 percent reported having lost weight as a result of food scarcity.
The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) confirmed in 2018 that the rate of undernourishment in Venezuela has more than doubled, from less than 5 percent between 2008 and 2013 to 11.7 percent between 2015 and 2017.
Putting food on the table is not the only problem Venezuelans face. The most recent and comprehensive report, released by Human Rights Watch, revealed the country's health care system to be in "utter collapse" marked by severe shortages of medicines and health supplies, hospitals without regular access to utilities, and the deterioration of emergency services. The study confirmed numerous reports that outbreaks of once-eliminated vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, diphtheria, and tuberculosis, have resurfaced. Maternal and infant mortality rates have also risen dramatically.
How could it get this bad? While U.S. sanctions imposed in 2017 may have played a role, it was ultimately the Venezuelan government that created the conditions for today's catastrophes.
Back in the mid-2000s, the late President Hugo Chavez had direct access to the highest oil windfalls of any administration in Venezuelan...