As Latin America emerges as a global epicenter for COVID-19, Venezuela’s political uncertainty, crumbling health care system, and widespread food insecurity leave the country particularly susceptible to the pandemic. Yet the urgent threat of the virus could force cooperation between the country’s competing governing bodies, particularly on health and humanitarian issues. Our Keith Mines outlines the pandemic’s toll on Latin America, Venezuela’s response to COVID-19 so far, and what opportunities exist for ending the country’s political impasse.


Hello, I’m Keith Mines, director for Latin America at the U.S. Institute of Peace, where we’ve been analyzing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on violent conflict around the world.

In this short video, I’ll answer three questions about what I think are some key dynamics of COVID-19 in Latin America with a focus on Venezuela.

How is the pandemic broadly affecting Latin America?

The COVID crisis has hit Latin America later than much of the world, but cases are still on the increase and enough countries are uniquely vulnerable that it is now being referred to as the new global epicenter. The hemisphere is especially susceptible to the health challenges of COVID because of the prevalence of the informal economic sector (as much as 55% in some countries), generally weak public health systems, and high levels of urbanization. To date, there are over 2.5 million cases and 120,000 deaths. Four countries in the hemisphere are in the global top ten, in fact: Brazil, with the second-highest number of deaths, and Peru, from a modest population base, is sixth, with Chile and Mexico also hard hit. And the numbers are still increasing and may be under-reported. The crisis in Latin America will throw many people back into poverty, in some cases extreme poverty, largely due to the loss of remittances and a steep drop in household consumption.

The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean estimates a drop of 5.3% in GDP across the hemisphere in 2020, with sixteen million people added to the sixty-seven million already in extreme poverty. This will impact the conditions for conflict as well as migration. It will also increase food insecurity, which is already affecting fifty-four million Latin Americans. Like many other regions, the hemisphere will take a very long time to recover and may not ever bounce back fully. As one international official said, “the major task we have ahead of us is to keep the health crisis from turning into a food crisis.”

The potential for increased social conflict will be high, but the crisis could also provide some unique opportunities for solving conflicts.

How will COVID-19 affect conflict in Venezuela?

In Venezuela, COVID hit late due to the country’s relative isolation, but it could yet hit hard, with a largely collapsed health system and lack of sanitation. Some ninety-one percent of the country is already in poverty and one-third of Venezuelans are food insecure, figures which will increase rapidly as COVID combines with shortages of gas and the collapse of the country’s agricultural sector.

Added to this, the COVID crisis is causing a loss of livelihood for hundreds of thousands of migrants who are resident in neighboring countries and may now return home. This will add additional tension in a country already under profound social and economic pressure.

Despite these basic challenges, many civil society leaders are calling for a truce between the country’s competing governing bodies. Such a truce could build on a three-way agreement signed by the regime, the Guaidó interim government, and the Pan American Health Organization in April that allowed for increased cooperation on detecting and fighting COVID. The two sides need each other in any agreement; the interim government controls much of the country’s assets and has a positive relationship with the international community, while the regime controls the security forces and Venezuela’s infrastructure.

This basic agreement, the first the opposition and government have signed in years, could open the door to expanded cooperation on health and COVID, which could then lead to broader cooperation on a range of other essential humanitarian issues.

Some wondered if this cooperation could lead to a breakthrough on the political negotiating front as well, which holds the key to any long-term improvements in the health and well-being of Venezuelans. But many in civil society are concerned that this could amount to overreach that would jeopardize or delay any humanitarian cooperation.

I definitely understand that perspective, and can see that perhaps the political and humanitarian talks need to remain on two completely separate tracks. But the two sides urgently need to find the right formula to return to the table and do the hard but essential work on a political pact that will end the current impasse. This won’t wait on for an improvement on the humanitarian situation or for COVID to subside. All of this will require establishing new, creative and dynamic processes to tackle both the political conflict and the humanitarian crisis. The UN and other international players may be needed to provide a venue for these processes to play out.

Beyond Venezuela, let’s look at our final question: How should the region respond?

In a broader sense, the COVID crisis has exposed weaknesses in the hemisphere’s socio-economic systems that could now be addressed as part of a new governance model intended to stave off future conflict. Low levels of taxation and corruption have led to weak public health systems and weak public education systems and perpetuated high levels of income inequality. This was impacting even many of the hemisphere’s more prosperous societies before COVID. Perhaps this is the time to go bold and develop a model that blends high levels of social spending with productive and integrated economies. Venezuela, as the country most in need of a new model to produce basic stability, would be in a unique position to develop such a blended system.

Through all of this, the importance of an active role by civil society is clear and it should be a part of the crafting of any solutions. Meanwhile basic democratic rights—to protest, choose leaders in free and fair elections, and maintain freedoms of expression and voice—will need to be upheld in order to channel conflict and disruption in a peaceful direction.

Thank you for watching, and for following this series on social media with the hashtag COVID and Conflict. Please check out our website,, for more resources.

Related Publications

Is there a Negotiated Path to Democratic Coexistence in Venezuela?

Is there a Negotiated Path to Democratic Coexistence in Venezuela?

Monday, August 2, 2021

By: Keith Mines

The scale of the Venezuela crisis is unique in recent history, with wartime indicators of hunger, refugees, and human rights abuses but conventional violent conflict largely absent. At the heart of the crisis is a 20-year struggle between the Chavista regime and the democratic opposition, characterized for most of these two decades by each side attempting to eliminate the other from the political map. Negotiations are seen by most outside observers as the only way the conflict will definitively end and there have been consistent efforts to bring the two sides to the table, most recently in Barbados and Oslo in 2019.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Could China Play a Role in Venezuela’s Crisis?

Could China Play a Role in Venezuela’s Crisis?

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

By: Anthony Navone

Few countries can rival the creditor-lender relationship between China and Venezuela on pure volume.  China has loaned more money to Venezuela — some $60 billion — than to any other country in the world and is Venezuela’s largest lender by far. But as Venezuela descends further into uncertainty amid a host of economic, political and social crises, Beijing has remained mostly silent regarding the domestic political struggles of one its largest trading partners in Latin America.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Peace Processes; Global Policy

The Current Situation in Venezuela (Spanish)

The Current Situation in Venezuela (Spanish)

Friday, March 5, 2021

Venezuela se encuentra en medio de un colapso social y humanitario sin precedentes – el resultado de malas políticas económicas y un conflicto político – que ha conducido a la inseguridad alimentaria, la segunda crisis migratoria más grande del mundo y a la inestabilidad regional. La comunidad internacional ha respondido presionando al régimen y apoyando a un gobierno dirigido por la oposición, pero que hasta la actualidad ha fallado a la hora de traer un cambio positivo.

Type: Fact Sheet

The Current Situation in Venezuela

The Current Situation in Venezuela

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Venezuela is in the midst of an unprecedented social and humanitarian collapse—the result of bad economic policies and political conflict—that has led to food insecurity, the second largest migration crisis in the world, and regional instability. The international community has responded with pressure against the regime coupled with support for an opposition-led government, but to date it has been unsuccessful in bringing about a positive change.

Type: Fact Sheet

View All Publications