EspañolAs is known around the world, the recent student protests held in Venezuela to demand government transparency and security netted multiple dead students and the arrests of several others. Repressive state forces attacked them on February 12, Venezuela’s Youth Day.
After this outrageous episode of violence and repression, many student movements around the world have shown their solidarity with the Venezuelan people. These events are already being called “the Venezuelan spring” — given that it’s been a week of protests already — and they evidence the decline of “Socialism for the 21st Century.” This system has been unable to meet the minimum demands of a large part of the Venezuelan population, with an incompetent and repressive bureaucracy that has resorted to terror in the streets to stop the protests generated by the high levels of social discontent.
It is no surprise that this level of discontent and dissatisfaction exists. This failed model is responsible for the transformation of one of the richest countries in Latin America and an oil producer into an importer of gasoline. It has led to the country being among the most violent in the world, where food shortages and power outages are part of everyday life. Venezuela is also at the lowest levels on indexes that measure essential components of democracy: the rule of law, freedom of expression, separation of government powers, and respect for human rights.
For us, the defenders of individual freedom and enemies of statism, it is unbelievable how these totalitarian regimes have survived — even after the 1989 fall of socialism and the Berlin Wall, the last structure holding together the failed system.
The end of the state is each individual — at least it should be — and that means to ensure and protect freedom, not violate it by repressing citizens simply for disagreeing. The silence and indifference on the part of most Latin-American presidents towards Maduro’s abuses is striking. The great crusade carried out by Oscar Arias, former president of Costa Rica in favor of freedom of expression, is a notable exception.
As in Venezuela, the youth of the eastern side of the Berlin wall died trying to cross it to get to the western side, escaping the marginal conditions that prevailed in the communist side. While in Venezuela there is no physical wall, there is the even harder ideological wall, built in the minds of people and which has made it impossible for them to see and think outside what the state has dictated.
At this point, breaking down the mental walls that separate the ruling party and the opposition is the great challenge for Venezuela. However, it is the only way that people will stand for all their individual freedoms in order to build a truly democratic country.
As Churchill said, it’s best to avoid predictions, because it is much easier to look back in time. What awaits Venezuela is a historic event, a turning point, and Maduro’s political decisions will determine whether he remains the president of Venezuela or not.
Despite having significant support from a share of the population — in my view out of fear rather than conviction — the actions he has taken to date are not the smartest, and do not guarantee at all his continuation in power. Far from seeking dialogue, as he claims, he has dedicated his underlings to repressing, killing, and even raiding the headquarters of the opposition. Then, when criticized, he decided to expel US diplomats, declaring each one a persona non grata “for interfering in the internal affairs of the country.”
So, again, with no intention to predict, I would like to assert the following: Venezuelan youth are tired of the status quo, and are restless and thirsty for freedom. The path to getting rid of this dictatorship will boil down to maintaining their presence on the streets, staying focused amid polarization, achieving unity, and breaking down the mental walls that separate the two Venezuelas — so we can finally say, “Goodbye, Maduro!”
Translated by Alan Furth.
Enrique Standish says foreign correspondents heading to Venezuela must take a critical position on government propaganda. If you are from the United States, the PanAm Post contributor warns, "You . . . have been trained to get the 'official' point of view. Be aware that you will be fed a lie." This advice should hold for journalists across all constituencies. However, the warning assumes particular import as crisis unfolds in Venezuela. The Chavista propaganda machine has spent years preparing for this moment. As I have previously reported, the mobilization of Bolivarian Circles in Canada (as elsewhere) has been accompanied by an active media campaign designed to increase the reach and success of the Chavista platform. Chavista loyalists in Canada, for example, have successfully taken action against the Canadian national press for failing to accommodate the "official" position of the Venezuelan regime. In a 2006 case launched by members of the Toronto-based Bolivarian Circle Louis Riel, the Toronto Star (Canada's largest national daily newspaper), was accused of “erroneous, unbalanced, biased, and degrading” reporting for a four-part series that included viewpoints critical of the Venezuelan government. The reporter responsible for the series had sought comment from Venezuelan officials through the US embassy in Washington, D.C. The Star produced correspondence indicating that it had "aggressively pursued" a government response but that the Venezuelan government "ignored" all requests for comment. Despite this, the media adjudication council for the Province of Ontario upheld the complaint against the Star. According to the Ontario Press Council decision, "only comment from government officials could offset criticism of the Venezuelan regime contained in the articles." That decision arguably explains why the Star has yet to file independent reporting on the unfolding crisis in Venezuela, relying on wire reports that privilege the "official" government position against so-called opposition "hardliners" such as Leopoldo López. In fact, given that Canada's national press carried in-depth coverage of the death of former President of Venezuela Hugo Chávez, the lack of critical coverage by these same outlets of the legacy of Chávez's 21st Century Socialism is striking. The Globe and Mail's Latin-American correspondent, Stephanie Nolen, for example, characterizes the current unrest as the outcome of poor leadership — Maduro is no Chávez. She ignores what is more correctly understood as the failure of socialism as an economic model. Nolen's sources assure readers that "even Chavismo-without-Chávez offers Venezuelans more than what a disorganized, rigidly right-wing opposition does." At least part of the problem facing Venezuela's opposition involves combating the success of the Chavista propaganda machine in globalizing this message. Unlike those who mistakenly underestimate Chavismo, Standish is correct to underscore that "the Venezuelan government is extremely media savvy." Not only has Chavismo put a chill effect on free speech inside Venezuela, it has mobilized an international lobby of media vigilantes committed to ensuring the "official" story continues to make headlines.