EspañolWhat started as a student movement in February, demanding solutions to widespread crime in Venezuela, has turned during the last several weeks into a series of nationwide demonstrations protesting against what opponents of the government see as the country’s main problems.
These demonstrations continue on, despite the celebration of Carnival festivities that ended on Tuesday. That day featured a march organized by the student movement and political opponents, carried out from Miranda Park to Petare, one of the largest working-class neighborhoods in Latin America. Both the starting point and the destination were located in the Sucre Municipality, Miranda state, which, while governed by the opposition, has several popular areas of Chavista majority.
Every year, the country celebrates the Carnival for two non-working days in which Venezuelans generally flock massively to enjoy the beaches. Floats, costumes, and partying are the norm. However, given the tension between the government and the opposition, escalating with the protests, this year the government has explicitly encouraged people to take a holiday instead of participating in the protests.
Besides the Monday and Tuesday Carnival holidays, President Nicolas Maduro declared the previous Thursday and Friday as nonworking days, which added to the weekend, gave a total of six consecutive nonworking days. In addition, Wednesday, March 5, was also added, as it is a national holiday to commemorate the first anniversary of the death of former President Hugo Chávez.
Protesters also carried out new initiatives to publicize their ongoing concern, such as a campaign to convince people not to go on vacation and “keep fighting.” Slogans like “if you get tired you loose,” “Carnival or freedom,” and “Let’s exchange the Carnivals for food and security” were printed on banners carried on protests during the last few days.
Meanwhile, government spokesmen stated that tourism activity throughout the country proceeded normally.
Two days ago, Tourism Minister Andrés Izarra said to the state channel Venezolana de Televisión (VTV): “This great mobilization (of tourists) during Carnival is proof that the violent ones are a minority, they are confined, increasingly isolated, and during this Monday at noon I say that barricades have been defeated by the people’s happiness.”
“We will not let those who want fire and mourning to take away the Carnival from us,” affirmed Izarra.
Similarly, the Minister of Water and Air Transport, Hebert García, assured that the volume of international flights increased 5.24 percent compared to last year’s Carnival, and that until Sunday 172,084 passengers had traveled on domestic flights.
Protesters Diversify Their Strategies
During the holidays, protesters used the beaches as the setting for their actions. On Saturday, Lido Beach, located in the resort city of Puerto La Cruz, Anzoátegui state, saw the light of day with crosses stuck in the sand, in which demonstrators wrote the names of the deceased during the recent protests.
However, seven demonstrators who wanted to replicate the protest in another beach in Puerto la Cruz were repressed by government supporters and police officers.
In Margarita island, another major tourist and holiday destination in the country, cyclists protested by lying on the pavement, black crosses and tombstones were placed on beaches, and cars were seen stopping in the middle of the streets pretending to be damaged, collapsing roads as a way of protest.
Despite his statements on Sunday, after completion of the holidays, Minister Izarra recognized that tourism had declined due to the protests, saying that tourism had suffered a “significant” drop in Nueva Esparta, Mérida, and Táchira states.
“This year we were experiencing a major tourist flood in Margarita, but this wave of violence and its magnification in the international media certainly had a big impact on our image and our ability to receive foreign tourists,” the minister said.
About Margarita island, the president of the Chamber of Insular Tourism, José Antonio Yapur, said: “We estimate that, on average, there has been a decrease of 25 to 30 points in hotel occupancy this season.” He also pointed out that commerce had been adversely affected by the problems related to obtaining foreign exchange and reposition of inventory.
EspañolProtests in Venezuela have now been going on for over a month. Crowds have come out into the streets and raised their voice against a government that will not hesitate to repress its own citizens with unusual cruelty. At the time of this writing, 18 demonstrators have been killed, over 200 injured, and almost a thousand have been jailed — many of whom are being tortured at this very moment. Without question, the photos and videos being widely disseminated through social media have provided ample evidence of the intense civil unrest within Venezuela and the brutal repression endured by its citizens. Unfortunately, the governments of neighboring countries, international organizations, and the media itself, remain strangely passive on the facts. They are plagued by hesitation and circulated stereotypes that have little relationship with reality. Many journalists, without knowing the recent history of Venezuela and often without ever setting foot within the country, insist that society is "profoundly divided into two halves." They say the protests are simply a reaction from the "middle class." However, anyone who takes an objective look at the images of what has occurred is able to see citizens from all economic levels engaged in these demonstrations — in both the capital and the interior of the country. While it has been mostly students — naturally more passionate and determined — there are people of all ages and all walks of life marching in the streets to demand an end to the violence and a change in government. Meanwhile, the demonstrations by supporters of President Nicolás Maduro have been few, often sparsely attended, and not very spontaneous. Instead, the president relies on the well-armed colectivos (paramilitary groups) that roam the streets of Caracas at night and fire their weapons wildly. Maduro and the Chavistas do not have the support of "half the population," but rather a portion of the country that is difficult to quantify at the moment. It's worth recalling that in the rigged elections that took place last year, Maduro was only able to secure 51 percent of the vote, despite all the advantages of his position for manipulating the election. If the press can be blamed for their confused attitudes and little empathy shown toward protesters, then — without a doubt — the reaction from the various international organizations and countries from the region has been far worse. Four years ago, the Organization of American States (OAS) condemned the government of Honduras when its parliament and supreme court deposed their president. The OAS also harshly criticized the Paraguayans after their congress — in accordance with existing laws — impeached their president as well. In neither case were protesters repressed or was a single death recorded. Despite the violent actions of the Venezuelan government, to date, the organization remains silent on the issue. The OAS recently canceled Panama's request for an emergency meeting, proceeding to "look the other way," lest they raise the ire of the socialists in power. Nor has CELAC — which not only tolerates but applauds the Cuban dictatorship — or any other Latin-American organization that has emerged from the many "summits" in the region, uttered a single critical word toward a government that mercilessly represses its own citizens. The democratically elected governments of Latin America have also remained silent. When given the opportunity, they've made weak calls for peace, and they further legitimize a president who has no intention of conceding and a regime that has brought misery to a once oil-rich country. It is understandable, of course, that Maduro would receive the support of his allies in Ecuador's Rafael Correa and Bolivia's Evo Morales, to whom he provides aid and showers with gifts. However, why haven't the governments of Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay — to name a few — come forward to support the civil liberties of Venezuelans? Do they agree with the prevailing regime in Venezuela, their socialist policies, restriction of the media, and brutal repression? Venezuela is now subject to a new imperialism. Cuba receives billions of dollars from their "colony," while the South American country lacks the funds to import essential goods for its own people. Venezuela is governed by a dictatorship that has become a satellite of Cuban totalitarianism, and those who claim to defend democracy, freedom, and human rights have nothing to say about it. As long as Latin America continues in this political cowardice, moral hypocrisy, and the implicit support of dictators in the region, we will be subject to all manner of despotism. It is important to remember in these critical times that if we do not defend the rights of others, there will be no one to defend our own when we most need them. Translated by Guillermo Jimenez.