EspañolI had the opportunity to visit Venezuela in recent days and was overwhelmed by the intensity of the crisis that persists there. Not only do protests steadily continue, despite the government’s harsh repression, there is no glimpse of an easy way out while the economic situation continues to deteriorate.
The struggle is kept alive throughout Venezuela by students who risk being injured, arrested, tortured, or even killed by the repressive regime that ruthlessly attacks them. Despite the risks, student groups, such as the People’s Patriotic Student Council, are prepared to take the fight for their freedom to the streets. They possess an unshakable will and clearly understand the crossroads the country is facing. The future of Venezuela — whether or not it becomes a totalitarian dictatorship like Cuba — depends on them.
Thousands have gathered from across different universities throughout the country to establish organized camps, where they remain day and night for weeks at a time. Camps have sprung up in Caracas and several other cities in the interior of the country, each occupied by hundreds of young people, supplied and supported by their neighbors in each city. They’ve been attacked by government and paramilitary forces, but always when the cameras are off and there are no foreign journalists in the area to chronicle their brutality.
These protests are spontaneous, volatile, and difficult for the government to suppress, because of their versatility and originality. Even though students make up the most active population, there are people from all walks of life — even the poorest among them — who are engaged in these protests. They’ll stop traffic, holding up banners and posters on street corners, and denounce the food shortages, inflation, corruption, and deaths caused by the National Guard — 41 dead and nearly 100 tortured, and the numbers increase every week.
President Nicolás Maduro knows he is in a position of weakness. Advised by the Cuban government, he is selective with his repressive tactics, trying to avoid negative international consequences for his government, which is still supported or tolerated by almost all of Latin America, with the honorable exception of Panama.
To clean up his image, Maduro has called for dialogue with the opposition, organized by the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD), a coalition of political parties of all stripes with a strong social democratic current. Representatives have held discussions with MUD, but they appear to have no practical purpose and likely serve only to legitimize the government.
Only a few political leaders — Leopoldo López, Antonio Ledezma, and María Corina Machado — have realized that the fight can only be won in the streets, and not by reaching some sort of agreement with a dictatorship. They understand that only tireless political pressure and isolation will cause the regime to abandon their positions of power.
Like the student protesters, these leaders have refused to sit and negotiate with the government unless preliminary conditions are met that would give meaning to the talks: disarmament of the paramilitary colectivos who ride on motorcycles and terrorize the city, a release of all political prisoners, and an end to the torture of detainees.
It has become obvious, however, that Maduro and his Cuban “advisers” will not compromise on these points, and with dwindling support, they understand that only violence can assure their hold on power. The general public is becoming increasingly alarmed and disturbed by inflation rates much higher than officially reported, empty shelves in every kind of shop, insecurity, crime, and the latest attempt to turn public schools into government indoctrination centers — just like in Cuba.
Will these spontaneous student protests triumph? Will disarmed citizens defeat a government that has no ethics and knows its survival depends on violence? I believe so. It is impossible for a government to remain in power when its impairment is so great. Government repression is useless when the people know they must fight to the end to win their freedom. The fight will be long, brutal, and full of difficulties, but a people who yearn for freedom, and will do what it takes to achieve it, cannot be stopped.