In Venezuela the government does whatever it pleases: from taking properties into national hands with any excuse, to taking control of private companies (from oil to communications to cement), to rigging elections and manipulating media.
For those and many more reasons (including lack of personal and food security), there have been numerous protests over the last decades, including a supposed coup d’état in 2002. Chavez is, through all this, something akin to a religious figurehead, but he has now passed away,and Maduro, a man whose rigged election gave limited legitimacy, does not have the veneering mantle cast around him. What he does have is the control of the media, except social media and to a certain degree cell phone communications – the government did try to block the app Zello, used by protesters to communicate and reunite. With that control he is able to pass off many government actions as those of the “radical” opposition, painting them as fascists and anti-Chavistas, for 3 hours every day.
Despite his partial control over the Internet and mobile phones, communication is still possible and thus organisation as well. While some Internet censorship is in practice, action such as in Egypt of a full out attempted blackout, are not probably going to happen because of much more severe implications, also seen in Egypt. This has become even more severe in relation to a possible mobile phone blackout, as their penetration is of 109%, with many people relying on it for their businesses, compared to 35% Internet penetration, without counting Internet cafés in slums and other underdeveloped areas.
Even so, on 12th February 2014 a point of no return was reached as a peaceful student lead protest ended in violent government reactions, which have since killed 28, and lead to 1334 illegal arrests as well as 40 documented tortures. They protest for lack of security as they face up against more police than they’d seen in a long time, according to some of their posters. They were citizens armed with their posters, they wrote, marching against police armed to their teeth.
To know what has happened daily since then, please read this article by Erika Sciarra. But bad news don’t stop at the daily occurrences, as a deeper food shortage, the biggest in Venezuelan history, is predicted in the very near future. Also, many people who could inflate the protests are very hardly reachable for two reasons. Firstly, they live in slums around Caracas (and other big cities), have few possessions and have been threatened to not join the protests or else. Secondly, the Internet penetration of 35%, with it being the only reliable medium of communication, hinders reaching many people who might want to protest their terrible conditions.
It is also important to know that the motor behind these protests, the reason why they have been so well orchestrated this time, is the Movimiento Estudiantil, which started in 2007 and, despite changing hands over time, still has devoted and strong leaders. They ask for the liberty of the illegal detainees, the cessation of torture practices, an end to criminalising demonstrations, the disarmament of all violent groups that cause terror to the Venezuelan society, the legitimization and separation of public powers so that the government doesn’t control the police and courts, and finally for an end to censorship of the media and communication.
The movement has a lot to protest about, it has been doing it in many creative ways, but in the end they aren’t asking for Maduro to step down. They are asking for transparency, abiding to basic human rights and security. This is the big difference to what has come before. An end to lies and corruption, doesn’t have to be an end to Maduro’s government, even though if he stepped down the strong leaders in Henrique Capriles or Leopoldo López could take over, the latter of whom is currently imprisoned for inciting violence.
The reason why I know any of this is because two friends – of whom I can’t say their names – shared with us the pictures and information in this article. Two friends who have been on the street fighting for change in the country they love. They’ve lived through the lack of security in the country, the abuse and the privitisation of property.
And that’s it, now you know more than about 70% of Venezuelan population.
So what comes next? The hope is that this is really a point of no return, meaning that change is about to come and that things will get better. But before that happens there is a probability that the the whole situation will fall apart, which will hurt many people. People in a position to help the situation include the heads of state of Central and South American coutnries, especially Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil. But the pan-national organisations of the area are currently being run or headed by states or people very close to the Maduro regime. The heads of state also enjoy cheap oil from Venezuela, and are hesitant to speak up because of it. They also don’t want to be betting on the losing horse, by giving political support to the opposition of whomever controls the oil.
The situation thus seems very dire, and all foreign interested parties can do is shine a light on the situation and stay on it. Syria and Ukraine (since the president was ousted) have been getting the deserved attention, but Venezuela has gotten close to none. We can support Venezuelans in this unimaginably difficult time by giving them the attention they deserve so that by the end they can enjoy the freedoms and respect every human deserves, so that they don’t have to leave the country they love.
This is for all the dreamers in Venezuela, just like Jared Leto said.
A final message to keep:
Benjamin Tirone Nunes