Why We Fight: A Message from Venezuela
The author of this blog post prefers to remain anonymous.
Much is happening in my dear country of Venezuela, as mass protests have converged nationwide to denounce the heavy-handed repression of fellow citizens. With the array of conflicting news stories that lack context and history, it may be complicated for someone without ties to the country to understand the many problems we face.
I will try my best to briefly outline those elements that merit attention and how we can best avoid them in the future. I must also emphasize that I am 20 years old, and the only political reality I have ever known is that of Chavismo. Through this message, I hope to speak for my generation.
To begin with, you must understand that there are no guarantees of basic democratic rights in Venezuela. Students are subject to violence from government-sponsored paramilitary groups whenever they go out to protest, despite on paper having the constitutional protection to demonstrate their concerns.
As for freedom of speech, the Venezuelan government has created a machinery of hegemonic communication control. It forces media outlets to either shut down entirely or engage in self-censorship at the risk of having their licenses revoked. State media cannot be trusted, since it is riddled with disinformation and the scapegoating of political opponents. Just as in the Arab Spring, Twitter has become the conventional tool used by Venezuelan protesters to relay information. Every citizen with a smartphone is now a reporter.
Second, there are numerous instances of human rights violations throughout the country. Protesters are being held in jail without a trial, some even raped while in the custody of state security forces. Today, there are still political prisoners in jail dating back to the Chávez era — a fact condemned by global organizations such as Amnesty International. The Venezuelan government’s clear lack of moral principle is further evidenced by its withdrawal from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
In addition, Venezuela has the highest inflation rate in the world. Since January 2013, we have experienced a 56 percent official inflation rate, and a whopping 200 percent increase in the price of the black market dollar. Because of draconian capital controls, the black market rate accurately reflects the plummeting purchasing power of the bolívar, especially since the majority of products consumed are now imported. Chronic food shortages also plague our country’s citizens. The national production of edible items is now dangerously low as a result of strict pricing controls and the widespread nationalization of industries.
Furthermore, violent crime is commonplace, and there is a clear lack of a functional justice system. Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world (perhaps the highest), as demonstrated by NGOs such as the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence which estimates that 24,763 killings occurred in 2013. Out of every 100 murders, there are only 9 arrests and even fewer convictions.
Bearing the angst of these injustices, Venezuelans have taken out to the streets to protest for an improved quality of life. These demands have arisen even amid the historically high price of oil throughout most of the Chávez-Maduro rule.
So far, the government’s response has been to promote a rhetoric of political polarization. They appeal to socioeconomic differences by demonizing the opposition movement and its leaders as “bourgeois, fascist, murderous puppets of the United States of America.” Hateful discourse of this sort is common. For example, Francisco Ameliach, the pro-ruling party state governor of Carabobo, recently took to Twitter to call on Bolivarian militias to deliver a “fulminant attack” on opposition protesters.
— Francisco Ameliach (@AmeliachPSUV) February 17, 2014
Still, the support base of Chavismo is withering away, as more continue to demonstrate their discontent with the repression being witnessed in the country. Most important, it now appears that the Bolivarian government is no longer supported by the majority — the small claim they had towards legitimacy.
Nevertheless, international sympathizers of Maduro claim that any act supporting an overthrow of the regime violates fundamental democratic principles. They claim the Venezuelan president owes his power to an electoral process. However, the truth in this lurks in the background, and elections in Venezuela are anything but fair. The ruling party has complete institutional control, from the legislative body to the armed forces. They also have unlimited access to the profits derived from Venezuela’s oil exports: a blank, illegal, and unregulated check used to fund campaigns, conduct bribery, and engage in vote buying.
I strongly believe that the preservation of Chavismo is not about an ideological struggle between the political right and left. It is not an ideology at all. If it began as one, Chavismo has now devolved into a group of bureaucrats who seek to retain power at all costs.
As for the protests, we cannot afford to lose momentum. Responsible street action must carry on with people from all social sectors; violence can only be justified in cases of self-defense. If we manage to continue in the way the people of Ukraine have done, our government leaders will soon face only three options: (1) immediately meet all protester demands (unlikely, if not impossible at this point), (2) leave the country, or (3) wait until some members of the armed forces rise to support the people’s cause.
While all lead to the same end goal, I prefer the second option. It allows for a more delicate and less troublesome conclusion. However, as I have argued before, this government did not rise to power by playing a fair game. It would be jus in bello to give them a taste of that same unfairness. However, as effective as it might be, a coup would degrade the opposition to the same level of the ruling party, thus weakening the legitimacy of a new project for Venezuela.
Of course, we must also consider the grim possibility that all of this eventually amounts to nothing. This outcome remains a risk so long as the government manages to contain protests, jail prominent opposition leaders, dismiss mounting international pressure, and force nationalized industries to remain active.
As of February 22, 12 Venezuelans have been confirmed dead — murdered by either government-sponsored paramilitary groups, the National Guard, or the National Intelligence Service. As the streets run red, we learn the harsh reality that abuse of power always comes in the same color — even if led by different ideological hues.