Anti-government protests have been a semi-regular occurrence in Venezuela for quite some time, but they’ve gained steam in recent weeks with high-profile murders galvanizing protesters to continue their opposition.
As in Ukraine, the politics on the ground can be difficult to understand as an outsider, but as one activist explained to Business Insider, the people really just want a stable economy, safety in their communities, and trust in the government.
Sadly, none of them are present in the Venezuela of today, as Reuters reports.
Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez was arrested on Tuesday on charges of “fomenting unrest” that led to the deaths of at least four people, but that has only brought tens of thousands of his supporters onto the streets.
“In just six days, things have gotten absolutely out of hand,” a source under the pseudonym “Manuel Gutiérrez” told Business Insider in an email. “Detainments, injuries, murders, all these at the hands of either government officials or (secretly) government-supported civil armed groups. As we speak, the streets of all major cities are plagued by outspoken criminals, burning fires, and military presence. It seems we have reached the point of no return.”
Gutiérrez offered the following explanation about what has been happening on the ground in Venezuela and what the protest movement hopes to achieve (slightly edited for clarity):
“The situation is as follows: The so-called Socialism that reigns Venezuelan policy has never been efficient. The government, nevertheless, maintained a very solid grip on power based upon three things: 1) Hugo Chavez’s extreme charisma, 2) Empathy from ‘the people’ who identify the government as more similar to themselves than the opposition, and 3) A very elaborate system of clientelism, populism, and unmeasured public spending. Economically, all this was miraculously sustained by skyrocketing oil prices.”
How Chavez’ death accelerated public unrest
“Ever since the death of Hugo Chavez and subsequent rise to power of Nicolás Maduro, stability has faltered. The economic crisis has taken an unstoppable downward spiral, to the point where the dollar’s official, government-regulated price is 11 Bolívares while its black market, actual price is around 80 Bolívares. Insecurity rates have skyrocketed. Venezuela suffers from more violent deaths than countries at war or civil war such as Somalia or Iraq. All these and countless other factors have contributed to the rise of public unrest.”
So what is the police response to the crime?
“There is widespread police and military presence,” Gutiérrez told BI. “But they act as though they are oblivious to criminal presence, and rather choose to focus on either rounding up or dispersing student protesters.”
The country leads much of the world in homicides: 39 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 (compared to 4.7 per 100,000 in the U.S.), according to Reuters.
“We want a change in government. Honestly, we want to see a profound change in the attitude of the whole people, but a change of government is imperative. We are terrified of government retribution. Even as I write to you, I’m doing all I can to find out about a close friend who is being chased down by the National Guard. This government is unrealistic, dictatorial and violent. Everyone we know — us included — is at risk. We need the world to find out.”
Meanwhile, the Maduro government has put the blame on the protesters being in league with “small fascist groups” and the U.S. government. And for now it seems willing to resort to hardline tactics rather than listen to the demands of the thousands in the streets.
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