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Venezuelan President Decrees Forced Labor

Venezuelan President Decrees Forced Labor

Venezuela is currently ranked as the world’s worst economy – and it’s getting worse. Analysts predict the nation’s struggling economy will shrink by another 10% this year. Inflation is expected to rise over 700%. 

Venezuela’s current plight is the result of several factors:

• Socialist leadership under former president Hugo Chávez

• Decrease in agricultural investment

• Increase in importing food 

• Dependence on a single export (oil)

• Severe drop in oil prices

• Continuing socialist leadership under current president Nicolas Maduro

Today, Venezuelans wait for hours just to enter grocery stores that lack basic items like toilet paper and milk. Many have resorted to stealing from delivery trucks or looking through dumpsters just to feed their families. 

Meanwhile, President Maduro claims he is a “victim of an economic war that seeks to destabilize the country and topple his government.” Maduro’s newest effort to combat food shortages comes in the form of a decree requiring both public and private citizens to work on farms. The decree “effectively amounts to forced labor,” reports Amnesty International.

“Trying to tackle Venezuela’s severe food shortages by forcing people to work the fields is like trying to fix a broken leg with a band aid,” says Amnesty International’s Erika Guevara Rosas. 

According to Venezuelan law, however, a presidential decree cannot be overturned by the National Assembly (Congress). The decree, issued on July 22nd, assures workers that they will continue to receive a normal salary and will not be fired from their “real jobs” while they are working the country’s neglected farms.

Maduro’s actions are uncomfortably similar to a strategy used by communist Cuba in the 1960s when it tried to improve sugar production after the US embargo on the island’s goods. The Cuban government forced citizens to work on sugar farms in a desperate move to cultivate the nation’s key commodity. 

Many believe that Maduro’s decree was influenced by Vladmimir Padrino, a Defense Minister recently promoted to lead a team responsible for controlling Venezuela’s food supply and distribution. 

“The power handed to Padrino in this program is extraordinary, in our view, and may signal that President Maduro is trying to increase support from the military amid a deepening social and economic crisis,” writes Bank of America economist Sebastian Rondeau.

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