Venezuela is in a state of crisis. Tragically, the worst may still be on the way, as the country teeters on the verge of collapse. The International Monetary Fund estimates that, this year, the country's inflation rate will reach an astonishing 10 million percent, while its unemployment rate will go well above 30 percent, hitting 45 percent in 2023. It is all too common to find dying infants and helpless patients in hospitals unable to provide basic services; there is a shortage of around 85 percent of all medicines in the country. Nearly 90 percent of Venezuela's population now lives in poverty, and most Venezuelans are struggling to buy enough food to feed themselves and their families. In fact, more than half of families cannot meet basic food needs, with countless Venezuelans starving. In this environment, crime has become rampant; indeed, more than 73 Venezuelans died a violent death every day in 2017. Caracas, the capital, is consistently ranked as either the most or second most violent city in the world. It is no wonder that, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency and International Organization for Migration, more than three million Venezuelans have fled the country since 2015. Another two million could leave this year.
Amid this chaos, one constant has been President Nicolás Maduro, whose failed socialist policies and authoritarian rule have devastated Venezuela. Rather than empathize with the Venezuelan people and look for new solutions to alleviate their pain, he has cracked down on dissent, brutally torturing protesters and military personnel. He has also jailed opposition activists, and his security forces have carried out hundreds of arbitrary killings. Maduro has, in no uncertain terms, become a tyrant.
And yet, Maduro was sworn in to a second, six-year term on Thursday. He of course did not win through a legitimate exercise of democracy, but through a rigged election. In May, after staving off months of protests and calls for him to step aside, Maduro won his reelection bid, which dozens of countries correctly identified as a sham. Numerous reports of coercion and fraud solidified what was already clear: the Venezuelan people do not want Maduro to be their president.
Of note, Venezuela's Supreme Court, rather than the opposition-controlled National Assembly, swore in Maduro. One judge was missing, however. Christian Zerpa, once an ally of Maduro, recently fled the country. Speaking in Florida this week, he called Maduro's government "disastrous" and "illegitimate."
Minutes after Maduro was inaugurated, most members of Latin America's regional diplomatic body, the Organization of American States, voted "to not recognize the legitimacy" of his government. The United States echoed that sentiment. "The U.S. will not recognize the Maduro dictatorship's illegitimate inauguration," President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, wrote on Twitter. "We will continue to increase pressure on the corrupt regime, support the democratic National Assembly, and call for democracy and freedom in Venezuela."
The United States is one of many countries that have called on Maduro to cede power to the National Assembly, until new elections are held to restore democracy. After Maduro's political rivals won a majority of seats more than three years ago, the president took away the legislative body's powers. He later created a new legislature, the Constituent Assembly, which was stacked with allies of his United Socialist Party and tasked with rewriting the country's constitution.
To Trump's credit, his administration has imposed numerous sanctions against Venezuelan individuals and entities. The sanctions are meant to pressure Maduro to restore democracy and the rule of law. As importantly, administration officials have not shied away from openly criticizing Maduro and his corrupt government.
In Congress, Sen. Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) has been a champion for the Venezuelan people, leading the effort within the U.S. government to pressure Maduro. In response, Venezuelans have shown Rubio their appreciation and deep gratitude.
For some reason, however, Democrats in Congress have been largely silent on Venezuela, which should present an opportunity for strong bipartisan action. Rarely does one hear a Democratic leader comment on the country at all, let alone criticize Maduro or praise the bravery of the Venezuelan people. The same goes for liberal activists on college campuses. They need to speak out more. This is not some distant land halfway around the world; Venezuela is only three hours from Miami by plane! And many of the millions who flee from there go to Florida.
Democrats should feel an obligation to speak out against the situation in Venezuela. As the progressive base of the Democratic Party continues to embrace so-called democratic socialism, and as more members of Congress—such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D., N.Y.)—identify as democratic socialists, it is important for them to explain what that means.
Many people blame the collapse in oil prices a few years ago for Venezuela's fall, since the country's revenue from exports is almost totally dependent on oil. But, as I wrote in 2016, "no oil-dependent country–even one like Iraq–is suffering in the same purely economic way as Venezuela is." The price controls, the industry nationalization, the doubling down on Marxist ideas—these are what led to the current situation.
Venezuela is true socialism in action. Someone should tell the democratic socialists.