The Impact of COVID-19 in Latin America: Venezuela Facing Coronavirus Outbreak

di Eleonora Maria Mazza Micara - 30 Aprile 2020

from Rome, Italy

   DOI: 10.48256/TDM2012_00095

In the wake of recent developments, the international community is shaken, as the pandemic has taken the lives of nearly two hundred thousand people. The spread of COVID-19 has endangered the stability of the international system, as we are witnessing one of the worst economic crises up to date. Although the escalation of coronavirus cases in the United States, Spain and Italy are making most of the headlines around the world, the challenge will lie in an even greater quandary: a far worse crisis caused by COVID-19 in developing countries. The spread of COVID-19 in the Latin American region may cause severe collateral damage to its political, economic and social bodies. It may not only fuel political tensions but also hinder economic growth and trigger social discontent.

“We may see a much more severe crisis in the developing world, where billions of people live in cramped places, don’t have access to running water, soap, or hand sanitizers” (Oppenheimer, 2020).


Coronavirus Outbreak in Latin America

In Latin America, several of the regions’ healthcare systems lack infrastructure and resources to cope with the rapid expansion of the coronavirus (Malamud and Núñez, 2020). Given that the key to fight the outbreak of COVID-19 is not to focus on preventing its onset, as it seems inevitable, but on limiting its spread across the population, an appropriate response lies in having adequate means (Malamud and Núñez, 2020). For instance, these might include the strengthening of monitoring mechanisms and the provision of basic healthcare services to delay coronavirus’ transmission and save lives (Malamud and Núñez, 2020). It is in these capabilities where the Latin American healthcare systems find their Achilles’ heel: due to the characteristics of the coronavirus, which is highly contagious, the availability of hospital beds is required not only for patients’ treatment, but for also for patients’ isolation (Malamud and Núñez, 2020).

Source: Global Health Security Index

COVID-19 epitomizes a multifaceted challenge, and Latin American governments are supposed to guarantee – as the other governments are – their population’s political stability, economic support and adequate social care. Nevertheless, at the moment in the region we are witnessing an increase in economic uncertainty that runs in parallel with a rise in political and social tensions (Malamud and Núñez, 2020). From Brazil, with the highest number of infected people, to the Ecuadorian city of Guayaquil, where the bodies of the dead lie on the streets, as locals fear contagion, governments are struggling in coping with the new virus (Gallón, 2020).

Among Latin American countries, Venezuela stands as the country facing the most serious consequences of the coronavirus outbreak. According to the Global Health Security Index (2019), Venezuela is among the twenty nations least prepared to face the spread of an epidemic.

Source: Global Health Security Index

Venezuela: What Went Wrong

The country has recorded hyperinflation for the past three years, shortages of food and medicine have worsened the living standards of the population, as numerous people are living under conditions of extreme poverty. Political dissent has further escalated the crisis and prolonged the unstable climate in Venezuela and on its national borders, especially with Colombia. Protests in the streets endure even if the police have increased the number of arrests.

The Venezuelan crisis is unprecedented: in less than four years, the Gross Domestic Product has fallen by more than 40 percent and the purchasing power of the Venezuelans has plunged more than 88 percent (Hausmann, 2017). The shortages of food and the lack of efficient health care have increased, as well as infant mortality. Despite the fact that fixed prices for basic commodities have remained stable over time due to government’s proposals, this policy did not solve the problem of scarcity, since such fixed prices are so low that they have rather paved the way for the rapid growth of the black market, where merchants can sell products at a higher market price and benefit from it.

The Venezuelan government has tried to cope with the crisis by printing new currency and putting it into circulation, but this has dramatically increased retail prices, especially for imported goods, which as a result worsened the crisis rather than alleviated it. To grapple with the social unrest characterized by widespread use of violence, the Venezuelan Constituent Assembly, created in July 2017 with the aim of rewriting the Venezuelan constitution as the major legislative body of the country, has promulgated an Anti-Hate Law in November 2017 to foster peaceful coexistence between government (led by Maduro) and opposition’s supporters (led by Guaidó). However, it was not successful in guaranteeing lasting peace between the two factions.


Current Trends: Persistence of Political Tensions, Economics Crisis and Social Unrest

Food scarcity, economic crisis and social unrest among Venezuelans have triggered numerous reactions in the international arena. As the political divide endures and the lack of universal recognition of Maduro’s government by the international community persists, the International Monetary Fund has recently denied President Maduro’s request of 5 billion dollars for emergency credit in order to combat the coronavirus outbreak (Long, 2020). President Maduro was not successful in guaranteeing lasting economic stability in Venezuela, and now, as the international community is watching, the crisis must be properly addressed.

Therefore, this enduring crisis in the country is not just political. Venezuelan citizens must in fact face three-figure inflation, economic stagnation, an ever-increasing refugee crisis, lack of food and medicines and the collapse of the value of the national currency. The Venezuelan crisis possesses not only a national dimension, given that its consequences may determine repercussions in the international arena and undermine the stability of the South American regional system. The instability of the Venezuelan political realm must be addressed not only by the Venezuelan government, but also by the rest of the international community, more specifically by Venezuelan neighbors and allies (Cuba, China, the Russian Federation and so on), alongside a more cooperative stand of the United States.

As the International Crisis Group suggests (2017), an agreement between the two political factions (Maduro’s government and Guaidó’s officials) allowing for “the delivery of critical aid and supplies, would serve the Venezuelan people more effectively at a quick victory under the shadows of a raging pandemic and a global recession” (International Crisis Group, 2020).


International Response to the Venezuelan Crisis: Before and After COVID-19

Before the coronavirus outbreak, numerous members of the international community sided against President Maduro and his government: since December 2016, MERCOSUR, the South American trading bloc, has suspended Venezuela’s membership due to failure to comply with its democratic principles (Al Jazeera, 2016). Similarly, the Organization of American States (OAS) continues to recognize Juan Guaidó and his cabinet as the “legitimate authority of the country” rather than Maduro and his appointed officials (Organization of American States, 2020). Several among Venezuelan neighbors deny Maduro’s legitimacy, and countries like the United States have lately taken a much stronger stand against Maduro: Trump’s administration, in addition to the economic sanctions, has also indicted Maduro and other government’s officials for “drug trafficking and other criminal charges” (US Department of State, 2020).

However, as Venezuela might face a profound humanitarian crisis because of COVID-19, the international community should ‘put aside’ the country’s political instability and instead focus on coronavirus’ long-term consequences for the Venezuelan population. The United Nations has attempted to shed light on Venezuela’s humanitarian needs and the threat of facing ‘catastrophic’ developments. The United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet and EU High Representative Josep Borrell “have called on countries imposing sanctions to offer relief to governments such as Venezuela to enable them to better face the emergency” (International Crisis Group, 2020).

As for coronavirus’ containment policies, Latin American countries already struggling with national crises like Venezuela do not possess sufficiently adequate means, resources, and technology to launch a massive campaign to monitor the population, regardless of whether they have symptoms or not, or in a framework of absolute transparency, to perform massive tests to detect the virus (Malamud and Núñez, 2020).


Possible Solutions

In order to guarantee political stability, the Venezuelan government should call a first round of negotiations to accept viable compromises and establish a common agenda among Venezuelan neighbors. Consequently, such an agenda should envisage economic assistance to Venezuela from international and regional organizations, and incorporate a specific mechanism allowing for a long-term recovery of the country. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) should contribute to the economic assistance that would be provided to Venezuela in the case of economic crisis, providing an opportunity to augment cooperation and improve relations between countries. In addition to regional organizations, international actors should intervene in providing economic support to Venezuela.

Another possible solution would require the free flow of foreign currency, which guarantees and facilitates both the import of goods (of which in a first stage a large part of the economic activity of Venezuela depends) and national production, through the purchase of the crucial elements needed to undertake it. The private sector shall play an active role in the health care and the commodities’ sectors, alleviating the living conditions of numerous Venezuelan citizens. Last but not least, in order to soften the ongoing political debates and converge the policies of the Venezuelan government and the opposition, the Constituent Assembly should establish an ad hoc committee, which should incorporate also members of the opposing parties to ensure a peaceful coexistence between the two and mitigate the nature of the dissent among Venezuelan citizens. This could symbolize a step towards cooperation and towards the removal of political turmoil.


Final Remarks

The side effects of the coronavirus’ outbreak on the Venezuelan political, economic and social realms might mirror a case scenario that could go beyond national borders. Latin American countries must address the impact of COVID-19 in an effective way as to limit its collateral damages. This pandemic might symbolize the ‘perfect storm’, it may epitomize both a tedious challenge and a meaningful opportunity to ease political discourse, achieve economic relief, and monitor social tensions. What countries in the region can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus is to implement more drastic measures as soon as possible, based on scientific evidence and the experience of other countries that have been more successful in managing outbreaks (Malamud and Núñez, 2020).

A solution to the Venezuelan crisis is feasible. The international community should endorse a cooperative economic policy with the Venezuelan government, but it is the latter that must initiate talks and enhance a recovery strategy, advocating for international cooperation and opening the doors to foreign financial support. The starting point would be a “sanctions relief and negotiations between government and opposition over a humanitarian truce” (International Crisis Group, 2020).



References (A-Q)

 Al Jazeera (2016). Venezuela suspended from Mercosur (online). Available here (Accessed 2 April, 2020).

Gallón, N. (2020). Bodies are being left in the streets in an overwhelmed Ecuadorian city (online). Available here (Accessed 4 April, 2020).

Global Health Security Index (GHS Index). (2019). Global Health Security Index (online). Available here (Accessed 2 April, 2020).

Gardini, G. (2012). Latin America in the 21st Century: Nations, Regionalism, Globalization. Translated by Gemma Brown. London: Zed Books.

Hausmann, R. (2017). El colapso de Venezuela no tiene precedentes (online). Available here (Accessed 2 April, 2020).

International Crisis Group. (2020). A Misguided Bid To Topple Maduro As The Virus Looms (online). Available here (Accessed 1 April, 2020).

International Crisis Group. (2020). Imagining a Resolution of Venezuela’s Crisis (online). Available here (Accessed 2 April, 2020).

Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). (2020). The Coronavirus Impact Dashboard: Measuring the Effects of Social Distancing on Mobility in Latin America and the Caribbean (online). Available here (Accessed 3 April, 2020).

Kornblith, M. (2013). Chavismo After Chávez? Journal of Democracy, 24(3), 47-61. doi:10.1353/jod.2013.0050.

Long, G. (2020). Venezuela faces threat of coronavirus catastrophe (online). Financial Times. Available here (Accessed 3 April, 2020).

Makoff, G. (2017). Venezuela’s economic crisis can be stopped. Here’s how (online). Available here (Accessed 3 April, 2020)

Malamud, C. and Núñez, R. (2020). El COVID-19 en América Latina: desafíos políticos, retos para los sistemas sanitarios e incertidumbre económica (online). Available here (Accessed 2 April, 2020).

Oppenheimer, A. (2020). Coronavirus will be an even deadlier pandemic in developing countries (online). Available here (Accessed 3 April, 2020).

Organization of American States (OAS). (2020). Statement of the OAS General Secretariat on the Situation in Venezuela (online). Available here (Accessed 5 April, 2020).

References (R-Z)

Rama, F., De Lisio, A. and Rodríguez, R. (2016). De Chávez a Maduro: Balance y Perspectivas. Bogotá: Editorial Universidad del Rosario.

Taub, M. F. (2017). El colapso de Venezuela explicado en cinco pasos (online). Available here (Accessed 1 April, 2020).

US Department of Justice. (2020). Nicolás Maduro Moros and 14 Current and Former Venezuelan Officials Charged with Narco-Terrorism, Corruption, Drug Trafficking and Other Criminal Charges (online). Available here (Accessed 31 March, 2020).


Autrice dell’articolo*: Eleonora M. Mazza Micara, BA Politics, Philosophy and Economics, e MA in International relations presso l’Università LUISS Guido Carli di Roma, e MA in Governance and Global Affairs presso l’Università MGIMO – Moscow State Institute of International Relations.


Nota della redazione del Think Tank Trinità dei Monti

Come sempre pubblichiamo i nostri lavori per stimolare altre riflessioni, che possano portare ad integrazioni e approfondimenti. 

* I contenuti e le valutazioni dell’intervento sono di esclusiva responsabilità dell’autore.

Editor’s Note – Think Tank Trinità dei Monti

As always, we publish our articles to encourage debates, and to spread knowledge and original and alternative points of view.

* The contents and the opinions of this article belong to the author(s) of this article only.