Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro begins another six years in power Thursday with a collapsing economy that shows no sign of bottoming out and a threat from some Latin American neighbors who say they will not recognize his government.
And still, there are few in or outside of Venezuela who are predicting Maduro’s downfall in 2019 or beyond.
“It seems that Maduro has gained the upper hand in terms of his control over the key institutions in the country, including the military, which is most key. So, in the near term it seems unlikely that anything from that aspect is going to happen,” says Richard Francis, director of sovereign ratings at Fitch Ratings.
It is an insight long held by Taina Nieves, who has just returned to Venezuela’s capital Caracas after scouring both Peru and Columbia for a better life and is more disillusioned than ever.
“Now that that man will remain in power, prices will go up again. He’ll most likely raise the minimum wage, but that means the prices on everything go up also. So we’ll be stuck in the same situation,” Nieves said.
In fact, the International Monetary Fund predicts inflation will hit 10 million percent in 2019. The Maduro regime continually raises the minimum wage, fueling ever more inflation, so every raise actually buys Venezuelans less and less every month.
“It’s a very, very difficult situation with the economy falling by nearly 50% since 2013. It’s the largest decline we’ve seen, and outside of a war, since the fall of the Soviet union, it’s a huge, huge, huge economic crisis,” Francis said.
Maduro blames what he calls US economic terrorism for Venezuela’s misery and as recently as Wednesday declared that he was battling an American-led coup to overthrow his government.
The Trump administration continues to try and pressure Maduro using targeted financial sanctions. The latest sanctions, announced this week by the US Treasury Department accuse Maduro insiders of using the currency exchange market to skim millions in illicit profits.
“Our actions against this corrupt currency exchange network expose yet another deplorable practice that Venezuela regime insiders have used to benefit themselves at the expense of the Venezuelan people,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
Through nearly a decade of mismanagement, Venezuela has squandered its profound oil wealth, leaving its economy in tatters and Latin America reeling from an unprecedented mass exodus of migrants in search of food and medicine.
The UN estimates as many as 3 million Venezuelans have fled since 2014.
The Lima Group, a regional bloc trying to coax the Maduro regime into democratic reform declared Maduro’s new mandate ‘illegitimate’ in a statement. They urged the President to transfer power to the National Assembly until new elections could be held.
The May election that returned Maduro to power was largely discredited. Turnout was historically low according to official figures and the vote was boycotted by opposition groups.
For Nieves, a new presidential mandate means only one thing: “I think things will get worse,” she says.