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President Nicolas Maduro Federico Parra/Getty Images

Venezuela’s Unprecedented Collapse

With per capita GDP down by 40% since 2013, Venezuela’s economic catastrophe dwarfs any in the history of the US, Western Europe, or the rest of Latin America. And yet headline GDP numbers actually understate the magnitude of the economy's decline.

CAMBRIDGE – In a hastily organized plebiscite on July 16, held under the auspices of the opposition-controlled National Assembly to reject President Nicolás Maduro’s call for a National Constituent Assembly, more than 720,000 Venezuelans voted abroad. In the 2013 presidential election, only 62,311 did. Four days before the referendum, 2,117 aspirants took Chile’s medical licensing exam, of which almost 800 were Venezuelans. And on July 22, when the border with Colombia was reopened, 35,000 Venezuelans crossed the narrow bridge between the two countries to buy food and medicines.

Venezuelans clearly want out – and it’s not hard to see why. Media worldwide have been reporting on Venezuela, documenting truly horrible situations, with images of starvation, hopelessness, and rage. The cover of The Economist’s July 29 issue summed it up: “Venezuela in chaos.”

But is this just another bad run-of-the-mill recession or something more serious?

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