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Venezuelans were once among the world’s happiest people. Then the country descended into economic chaos and humanitarian crisis. Jorge Silva/Ruters

Why Venezuelans are some of the unhappiest people in the world

Venezuelans used to be among the happiest people on the planet.

In 2012, they voted themselves into fifth place in a global Gallup survey on happiness. In 2013, this South American country ranked 20th out of the 156 countries included in the United Nations’ annual World Happiness Report, which assesses well-being worldwide based on measures like wealth, life expectancy and corruption.

My home country used to be a prosperous, cheerful place. People were proud to be from Venezuela – a place known for its friendly citizens and beauty queens: Venezuela has produced six Miss Worlds and seven Miss Universes.

Not anymore. This year, Venezuela plunged to 102nd place of 156 countries in the World Happiness Report. By comparison, Denmark topped the list and the United States came in 18th.

What happened?

Terrible leadership

Venezuela has changed dramatically in recent years.

President Nicolás Maduro – who was elected to succeed the popular late leader Hugo Chávez in 2013 – has turned out to be a kind of King Midas in reverse. Everything he touches seemingly turns to garbage.

Venezuela’s economy was already going south in Chavez’s last years. But under Maduro it has collapsed. Venezuela is drowning in debt, with annual inflation of 15,565 percent.

Once poor people are now starving. On average, Venezuelans have lost 24 pounds each since food shortages began in 2015.

Meanwhile, the middle class is disappearing. According to the labor union UNETE, 75 percent of Venezuelan workers no longer earn enough to support their families.

Maduro’s government censors crime data, but citizen groups estimate that 28,479 Venezuelans were killed in 2016, up from 16,549 in 2014. Those are conflict zone-level casualties.

Fleeing these unbearable living conditions, thousands of Venezuelans have begun pouring across the border into neighboring Colombia and Brazil every day.

Rigged elections

Amid all this, Venezuelans must choose their next president on May 20 in an election that international democracy monitors consider a farce.

Maduro has systematically persecuted his opponents, sending them to jail or into exile. The regime has also used the state apparatus to boost its electoral prospects, trading food for votes, suppressing turnout in dissident districts and crushing anti-regime protests.

As a result, this wildly unpopular president is running for reelection without meaningful opposition and is likely to win.


Venezuelans live in terror. People fear falling ill, because medicine is scarce. They fear being murdered. They fear political repression.

It’s hard to be happy under a dictatorship.

Many Venezuelans have lost any hope of political change. Maduro has crippled Venezuela’s independent institutions, stacking the Supreme Court with loyalists and stripping the National Assembly of its legislative powers. Freedom of speech is long gone.

And if all that’s not bad enough, the 2018 Miss Venezuela pageant has been suspended after allegations of prostitution among its contestants.

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