Venezuela, knowing it is your destiny…
…at least, that is what the country’s tourism slogan wants you to beleive. In reality, the Venezuelan government is struggeling to keep up with what it wants its people to know (and even more so what it wants them not to know). State television is showing cartoons and tourism promotional videos, while the streets of Caracas are burning. People are depending on social media to keep track of the facts and the whereabouts of loved ones, as national news media are being strongly censored.
Without trying to triviallise what is going on the streets of the Ukraine, Thailand or the Central African Republic in any way, many do feel the Venezuelan conflict is being underestimated. Venezuelan journalist, Francisco Toro writes: Venezuela’s domestic media blackout is joined by a parallel international blackout, one born not of censorship but of disinterest and inertia. It’s hard to express the sense of helplessness you get looking through these pages and finding nothing. Venezuela burns; nobody cares.
So what are these young protesters fighting for? Who are these people taking to the streets? Did these people oppose Hugo Chavez as well, or are they against Maduro’s government specifically? Is this a coup in the making? How strong is the military’s loyalty to Nicolas Maduro?
Despite Chavez’ loudly promoted community projects, Caracas has been on the list of most violent cities in the world for many years now. In 2010, studies showed that it was more likely to get out alive from Iraq, than from Venezuela. Taking into account that violence, corruption and government inefficiency have been a constant for almost half a decade now, why take to the streets now? Which recent drop has made this bucket overflow and who are these people spilling out with such rage? I am full of questions, and hope to find some answers in the process of writing this blog.
Let’s start out, with a helpful video summary.
Even though it almost a year ago that Hugo Chavez passed away, his presence is still felt in the country’s politics. Chavez has become a symbol, a metaphor, a memory. One that current president Nicolas Maduro likes to remind the Venezuelans of, for he is the one that Chavez handpicked to fulfill the “revolución bolivariana”. However, Chavez’ legacy had already started to crumble in the last years of his reign. Every new election he won less overwhelmingly and opponents started raise their voices against him, despite all of the governments attempts to silence them.
In a way, Chavez’ death was the best thing that could happen to him in terms of preserving what was left of his reputation. He was spared the inevitable defeat he would have had to face at some point along the line. However, we will never know if the situation in Venezuela would have run out of hand as strongly and violently as it has now if he would have still been in charge. The legacy of last week’s bloodshed now rests on the shoulders of president Maduro, while Chavez remains a hero for many Venezuelans, painted on walls, alongside Simon Bolivar and Che Guevara.
Chavez has changed Venezuela forever, there is no discussion about that. Even his most ardent opponents have incorporated his “misiones” (read more about them here) into their political campaigns and promise to never go back to the strictly neo-liberal strategy of the late 20th century. The people demand a significant percentage of the profits from Venezuela’s oil to flow back to the people, be it through education programs, housing subsidies or any other social justice related project.
Well, despite Maduro continuing the Revolucion Bolivariana, that Hugo Chavez started almost 15 years ago, Venezuela recorded one of the world’s highest inflation rates in 2013 at 56 per cent. This is what triggered the first round of protests in the state of Táchira, demanding a stop to the rising prices and shortages of basic goods. When the (in)famously low prices of oil began to rise –a measure Hugo Chavez managed to avoid until his death -, anger spread quickly throughout the country.
In an attempt to inhibit protesters to coordinate their movement, the plugs were pulled out of the communications systems in the region around Táchira. Twitter users and news sites reported that electricity also appeared to have been cut in the area for almost two days.
I can only imagine how frustrating it must be to try to keep track of reality in Venezuela when you have to rely on social media for your reporting and national news channels are merely a distraction. While the opposition has managed to catch the attention of the global community by having local celebrities promote the message #prayforvenezuela on Twitter, government supporters are launching their own campaign to uncover what they say is manipulation of images.
As CNN reports: Allegations of censorship, self-censorship and photo manipulation have made it difficult for news consumers — especially Venezuelans — to form a complete picture of what is going on. (…) These [social media] reports provide under-reported vantage points, but what is the whole story? It is a challenge when unverified content is going viral and a government is blocking media.(…) The examples of manipulated photos are but a drop in the fire hose of images being shared on social media, but sometimes that is all that’s needed to sow seeds of doubt.
After the first protesters were killed on February 12th only 5 out of 38 Venezuelan radio stations reported on the day’s deadly violence. And as has been the case ever since chavismo made its appearance, the government stated that the opposition is being payed and trained by the USA to overthrow the democratically elected president. Last Friday however, Maduro seemed to have had slight change of heart and called for a dialogue with the US government to “put the truth out on the table.” Amen to that!
I am going to take some time to digest all of the information I have learned and will try to come back here soon to see if I can come to some conclusions and answer the questions I formulated at the beginning of this blog. If anyone of you has any comments or additional info in the meantime, feel free to let me know!