John Oliver's Venezuela Segment Sheds Important Light On The Country's Dire Crisis

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)

On Sunday's episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver's Venezuela segment highlighted the dire nature of the country's political and economic crisis. Oliver's segment comes several days before the 2018 Venezuelan presidential election, which current president Nicolás Maduro looks likely to win. In addition to shedding light on the crisis, which has left thousands of Venezuelans impoverished and malnourished, Oliver took Maduro to task for his role in helping perpetuate the country's problems.

Oliver opened his segment by highlighting the grim nature of the economic crisis in Venezuela, which has left many Venezuelans starving — profoundly impacting their health. As El País reported in February of this year, around 64.3 percent of Venezuelans surveyed said they had lost 11 kilograms (around 24 pounds) in 2017. In characterizing the crisis, Oliver condemned the notion that it had been caused by socialism (a cause often cited by conservatives) and instead blamed catastrophic governmental mismanagement. As the late night host put it:

What is happening in Venezuela is not just extremely important, it is absolutely worth paying attention to because this is not just a story about socialism. There are plenty of socialist countries that look nothing like Venezuela. It's a story about epic mismanagement. So epic that a nation of 31 million people with the largest oil reserves in the world have been forced to resort to some pretty creative forms of protest.

The "creative forms of protest" to which Oliver referred consist of people throwing what have become known as "poo-poo-tov" cocktails in protest. As Oliver described, some Venezuelans have resorted to filling bags with human feces and throwing them during protests. This type of protest highlights the grim nature of the situation in the country, in which many citizens feel like they have nowhere left to turn for help. As Oliver noted, the protest represents "desperate people turning to a desperate measure."

During his segment, Oliver largely took Venezuela's current president, Maduro, to task for what he perceives as the president's failure to properly stem the country's economic crisis. As the host described, Venezuela's economy suffered in 2014 due to falling oil prices and years of economic mismanagement by former President Hugo Chávez. The country's woes were exacerbated the previous year when the widely-popular Chávez died. Oliver condemned Chávez's personally-selected successor, Maduro, for making the country's crisis even worse, saying:

[Maduro] has managed Venezuela's economic crisis in the worst possible way. He's doubled down on many of Chávez's most unsound policies, like unrealistic currency and price controls, while attempting to make up for missing revenue by simply creating more money. And, as a result, inflation has exploded.

Oliver then further described just how out-of-hand the inflation issue has become in Venezuela. He played clips from a visit to a Venezuelan market last year that showed shopkeepers weighing stacks of money as opposed to counting them, because it now takes so many bills to pay for everyday items. Moreover, the clip also featured one Venezuelan woman describing how the price for one plantain in Venezuela is now the same price that she paid for her house 25 years ago.

As a result of the crisis, many Venezuelans are struggling to afford essentials like food and medicine, as the host noted. Indeed, many have taken to referring to the aforementioned weight loss they have experienced during the crisis as the "Maduro diet" — something that Oliver referred to as a "very healthy-sounding term for a horrifying situation."

Oliver condemned Maduro's government for failing to come up with any solutions to rectify the growing crisis. The host mocked Maduro for suggesting that suggesting that people breed rabbits to eat as a way of curbing hunger. He also was aghast at Maduro's suggestion that simply changing the numeric value of Venezuela's currency would solve its inflation problem.

Finally, Oliver eviscerated Maduro for turning down "help from other countries and agencies, including food and medicine," condemning the Venezuelan president's claim that "humanitarian aid is part of a conspiracy to overthrow his government."

To wrap up his show, Oliver employed the help of Wilmer Valderrama — dressed as a bird — to implore Maduro to accept humanitarian aid, since he "won't listen to reason or to the will of his own people." Valderrama, who grew up in Venezuela, wore the costume as a reference to Maduro's insistence that the late Chavez visits him in the form of a bird. In commenting on the crisis, Valderrama said,

You're in some serious trouble, compadre. ... The whole world can see what a mess you are making. ... The point is you need to accept humanitarian aid and cool it with the dictator stuff. Or I've got a poo-poo-tov cocktail with your name on it right here.

Overall, Oliver's segment shed some important light on Venezuela's ongoing economic and political crisis as the country heads to the polls for its May 20 presidential elections. Many will be closely watching to see if the crisis impacts Maduro's chances for reelection or if, as Oliver predicts, he will easily secure victory.