Venezuela’s economy contracts by 80% while country’s media industry is close to collapse 

By Conrad Egusa Published: 4 April, 2024


Venezuelans at home and abroad are hoping that 2024 could prove to be a pivotal year for the country’s troubled fortunes.

In recent years, Venezuela has become better known for its political, social and economic crises, triggering the largest external displacement crisis in Latin America’s recent history. It’s now estimated that over 5 million Venezuelans have migrated in search of economic opportunities. 

However, presidential elections have now been confirmed for July 28, 2024. Although the current President, Nicolas Maduro, is expected to run again without a clear challenger since Maria Corina Machado was banned from running for office, the looming elections are asking many to consider what the electoral outcome might mean for Venezuela’s future. 

An economy and media industry in sharp contraction 

Between the years of 2014 to 2021, Venezuela’s economy contracted by a staggering 80%. For a country with rich oil reserves and solid exports, the current crisis was first sparked by a global drop in oil prices. The situation was subsequently mismanaged by the socialist administration. With oil being the country’s most valuable resource these bad decisions quickly spiraled out of control, resulting in widespread economic turmoil. 

Towards the end of 2021 and the beginning of 2022, there was a brief period of respite with several months of economic stability. This even prompted a slight reversal of the mass migration with Venezuelans returning from countries including Colombia, Peru and Ecuador. 

However, by 2023 it had become clear that the brief glimmer of hope was fading fast. Traditionally, the President announced a minimum wage increase on May 1st, Labor Day. However, there was no such wage increase in 2023. Further, the last raise in 2022 put monthly pay at 130 bolivares. At the time this was worth the equivalent of $30 USD, but is now worth closer to $3.70 USD, putting the plight of citizens into sharp focus. 

Now that Venezuelans are again grappling with constant food-price hikes, business closures and weakening currency, the apathy towards the current presidential administration is at a peak. However, with corruption accusations, rampant misinformation and government repression, how much change can be hoped for during the upcoming elections? 

Muzzling the media ahead of elections 

Alongside the country’s economic woes, Venezuela has seen a widespread crackdown on media outlets, reporters, and public figures that has led its media landscape to sharply contract in tandem with its economy.   

In the last two decades, dozens of news outlets have disappeared in Venezuela. Between 2013 and 2022, more than 60 Venezuelan newspapers went out of circulation indefinitely.

Television broadcasters have been forced to decide between self-censorship or closure.

Further, in 2022 alone, the Venezuelan government ordered the closure of at least 95 radio broadcasters. This was after the closure of a huge 285 radio broadcasters between 2003 and 2022. 

In addition to censorship, the government has also used legal action to suppress free speech. Authorities have charged journalists and media workers with crimes such as defamation, slander, and terrorism, which provide an impediment for outlets and journalists to continue reporting. 

As the presidential elections in July inch closer, the crackdown on free speech is likely to get tougher. To give an example, popular Venezuelan YouTuber Oscar Alejandro Pérez was detained in the capital’s main airport on April 1st by police on accusations of terrorism.  

This comes not long after the arrest of the 57-year-old lawyer and military expert Rocío San Miguel, which shocked international observers. When the UN human rights office criticized San Miguel’s detention, the government ordered its staff to leave the country within 72 hours, leaving a worrying question mark hanging over citizen’s ability to challenge state oppression in the lead-up to elections.

With digital influencers, traditional broadcasters and human rights lawyers all facing legal woes for operating in Venezuela, the next chapter could prove a keystone moment for how free speech and broadcast media can tackle oppression in a modern media landscape.