Protests have been happening in Venezuela now for over two months. While it has been said that the start of the protests was sparked by students irate over the human violation of a 21 year old young man allegedly raped with a rifle by military affiliates, it seems to have opened a Pandora’s box of many other issues.
These have been the largest protests since President Nicolas Maduro took office and the biggest in a decade, spreading to other cities beyond Caracas (the capitol) including Tachira and Merida.
Some of the main characters include: President Nicolas Maduro and his regime, former mayor, political maverick and rising leader Leopoldo Lopez, and Maria Corina Machado, (former president of the Venezuelan Volunteer Civil organization). The two previously mentioned parties are said to be leading the students and protestors.
So What is it about?
The conflict first started in the western city of San Cristobal in February of 2014, where students demonstrated against crime in the western states of Tachira and Merida, demanding increased security after alleged victim(s) of attempted rape. The protests were said to have first taken a violent turn when 3 people were shot by gunmen following a peaceful march. They were later joined by headliners from the Umbrella Opposition Group Table for Democratic Unity and since then it has spread to include other issues beyond human rights such as economic injustice, government corruption, and censorship.
On the other side, government supporters held marches backing President Maduro, successor to the late Hugo Chavez. The government has accused the opposition (also referred to by the government as fascists) of creating a coup with the help from the U.S. They have compared these protests to the brief coup against Chaves in 2002. It is said that protestors on both sides are predominately made up of middle class citizens with middle class concerns.
As of March 24th, 2014, Lopez stated that since protests began on February 4th, 2014, more than 1500 protestors have been detained and more than 50 have reported that they were tortured while in police custody.
Some reports have stated that Venezuela has the fifth highest murder rate in the world and that crime life is extensive in urban cultures, including crimes or rape and torture. The murder rate has skyrocketed to such proportions that it is estimated that someone is a victim of homicide every 20 minutes. In regards to the protests, however, both sides have been blamed for the violence stating that all participants have been armed with weapons and used them.
Economic injustice and Government Corruption
There has been reported a limited supply of needs for the people, especially medicine. Also, while oil prices have risen the economy has seen no profit. Venezuela is said to have the lowest economic growth in Latin America for the past 16 years.
One of the concerns is the power of the president who is said to have ordered the capture of Leopoldo Lopez, which is allegedly against the law for a president to order the incarceration of any citizen. Further, many radio stations and television programs have been cut leaving the protesters to turn to social media as their only outlet.
The Role of the U.S.
While Secretary of State John Kerry is stating that this is a case of a peaceful protest reflecting the restlessness of the people, some have criticized Kerry for painting a picture through rose colored glasses that is in fact highly inaccurate. Some have also accused the United States of ulterior motives.
According to America-Venezuelan lawyer Eva Golinger, opposition leaders are parallel to a “tropical tea party” and are determined to return Venezuela to a pre- Chavez era when a handful of wealthy families had all the power. She also says that at the head of the protestors are not the people but a small group of U.S. Ivy League educated elites. Golinger appears to believe that this is in fact an issue of race and class where the goal is driven by a hatred of the darker skinned and poor fueled by the U.S.who, in her opinion, has been determined to undermine and overthrow Venezuela’s democratically elected government since it went socialist in the late 90’s.
It is reported that while this middle class protest is backed by “rogue” officials, the poor go on unaffected in their daily lives.
In The End
So is this in fact a case of a legitimate political uprising to benefit those being mistreated by a government that has let down it’s citizens, a situation that has been manipulated to benefit a plethora of hidden agendas, or both? Who is really suffering and who is really benefitting? Do we see this movement as making a legitimate change to the climate of Venezuela, or just a moment in history where it becomes so politicized that the real issues of this country still go ignored? You decide.