With the Ukrainian unrest and the ongoing strife in Syria continuing to make the national headlines, day in, day out, we are clearly living in a time of protest and revolution.
In the protestors’ pursuit for a more democratic political system, a fundamental right which we, as British citizens, take for granted every day, these dissenters, who are ordinary people just like ourselves, are constantly violently repressed and censored – the antithesis of democratic governance.
But we all, I hope, have at least a vague idea about the distressing events that are occurring in Eastern Europe and North Africa. We have seen the footage on television and we have read the newspaper articles; we are aware of the devastation that, notably in Syria, has been happening for such a long time now that it is sadly becoming the norm, and we are becoming increasingly detached because of it.
Ukraine and Syria have taken centre stage in the international media up until now, and of course this is not a bad thing. As a nation, we need to stay informed about global affairs and be quick to denounce crimes against humanity. At times, this may require us to send aid to the countries’ victims.
However, since our attention has been completely focused on these two examples of political unrest, most recently in Ukraine, the majority of us have been oblivious to the conflict unfolding in Venezuela. Having realised the gravity of the Venezuelan situation only in February, when I came across an online appeal for the international audience to stop and pay attention, until recently I too fell into this category.
So, what is really going on in Venezuela…?
Venezuela has been under the rule of Nicolás Maduro’s ‘socialist’ government since the death of Dictator Hugo Chavez in March 2013. In spite of his demise, the present government is still a socialist administration and thus pursues similar policies, so much so that it is regularly described as ‘Chavista’.
Maduro was elected into power, albeit by a margin of 1.5%, and his policies have been ostensibly committed to reducing national poverty. Nevertheless, dissatisfaction is surging, particularly among students and the middle classes, and this is attributable to a few key factors.
Firstly, the Venezuelan economy is under considerable strain due to high inflation (in 2013, inflation reached 56.2%). This has resulted in financial instability, food shortages due to restricted imports and unreliable domestic production, and escalating levels of crime.
The selling of the American dollar on the black market is partly responsible for the state of the economy as it has set an exchange rate ten times higher than the state-regulated one; this means that the majority of Venezuelan citizens who earn their wage in Bolivars suffer, whereas those who earn their salary in dollars are able to capitalise on the weakness of the Bolivar. Historically, inflation has provoked people to take to the streets in protest and the Venezuelan case is no different.
Next, we turn to the problem of crime in Venezuela. It is already common knowledge that Caracas, its capital city, is one of the most dangerous cities in the world. The murder rate in Venezuela is staggering. One person is murdered every 21 minutes.
To offer a recent example, on February 25th 2014 it was reported that the ex-World Champion boxer, Antonio Cermeno, was shot dead and left on a road-side after he and his family were kidnapped. Having to live in an environment where personal safety is placed at risk every day should never be acceptable. Consequently, in a climate of fear and insecurity, blame has been pinned on Maduro’s government for not doing enough to tackle the country’s main social problem. You need only to read the statistics to comprehend the severity of it all.
Undoubtedly, a struggling economy coupled with unprecedented levels of crime creates a revolutionary atmosphere. Although the most recent anti-government protests began in response to the alleged attempted rape of a female student, which again emphasises the soaring crime rate in Venezuela, the incident was solely the trigger for the uprising.
It created the perfect conditions for the protestors to lash out at the social injustice and the harsh economic reality within their country. As the protests intensified, students were joined by discontented members of the middle class and the opposition party leader, Henrique Capriles, eliciting a governmental response in the form of arrests, repression, and violence.
…and why have we only just found out about it?
I am currently living in Mexico, a Latin American country, on my year abroad, so I was surprised that even I was not fully aware of the tensions until now. Yet, it is the result of Maduro’s stringent media censorship, which has been described as a ‘media blackout’.
Journalists within the country are purportedly subjected to abuse and harassment, a Colombian news channel in support of the protestors has been removed and three US diplomats were recently forced out of Caracas. Proponents of the Venezuelan government argue that the international media is ‘distorting’ the truth of the situation and photos have been edited accordingly to rally support for the protests. But each day, as more and more information is released through social media, our eyes are beginning to open up to the crisis.
Do you need to open up your eyes?