“Venezuela is in terrible shape,” President Mauricio Macri of Argentina told participants at this year’s World Economic Forum on Latin America. His comment won’t come a surprise, even to those who don’t closely follow developments in the region.

Venezuela’s recent woes are well known. Inflation, already through the roof, could hit an incredible 720% this year according to the IMF. Food shortages have left people waiting in snaking lines for hours at a time. Looting and riots have erupted. And while it might have Latin America’s largest fossil-fuel reserves, the country was until recently gripped by an energy crisis so severe that the government imposed a two-day work week.

Venezuelan riot police attempt to control a crowd
Image: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

But what started as an economic and political crisis is quickly descending into a human rights disaster, Macri warned. “I’m very concerned. We cannot accept this level of human rights violation in our region.”

Just this week, the ongoing food riots and looting have led to five deaths, many injuries, and 200 arrests, according to the latest reports. The government’s response has been heavily criticized, with most agreeing it has exacerbated an already difficult situation.

“Stubborn politics are seriously affecting millions of lives. The lethal combination of severe food and medicine shortages coupled with sky-high crime rates, persistent human rights violations and ill-conceived policies that focus on trying to keep people quiet instead of responding to their desperate calls for help are a recipe for an epic catastrophe,” Amnesty International warned in a statement.

For President Macri, the answer to the ongoing crisis lies in the democratic process. “Venezuelans are experiencing a terrible situation. Their only solution is this year’s election, so the Venezuelan people can choose who is going to rule their country.”

President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, who was also at the Forum’s meeting in Medellín, has in the past spoken out about the situation, warning of the wider regional repercussions if the situation is not brought under control.

“I have been searching for some type of dialogue so that the Venezuelans can find solutions to their problems because anything that happens in Venezuela has repercussions in Colombia,” he explained.

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