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Venezuela: Protests against Repression Less Visible, but Discontent Keeps Growing

By: Contributor - May 7, 2014, 9:31 am

EspañolThe latest survey performed by pollster Datanálisis on 1,300 households, from different socioeconomic levels of Venezuela, shows that 79 percent of the population believes that the situation in the country is negative. Even half of those who identify themselves as Chavistas feel that way. But this is not the impression you get walking down the streets of major Venezuelan cities, as the struggle to generate family income appears to have taken precedence over any protest initiative.

The survey, published by El Universal, reveals a concrete list of reasons that people give for the deterioration of the country’s fortunes: President Nicolás Maduro is the first on the list, with 31.8 percent of respondents naming him, followed by “the people” (el pueblo), according to 17.2 percent of respondents; then 5 percent of respondents name the opposition parties, and even the United States is responsible, according to 1.3 percent of respondents.

59.1 percent of respondents say Maduro should leave power this year, and 20.1 percent think his ousting must be carried out through a recall referendum, which according to Constitutional rules would have to take place in 2015.

Since February, there have been many mass demonstrations in streets of Venezuela that reflect the people’s discontent. The results of these 70 days of demonstrations have been 41 reported deaths, 800 people injured, and 2,523 arrested, of which 197 remain in prison. But today, people have reduced considerably the noise and zeal with which they express their discontent in the streets.

Three factors lie behind this phenomenon: (1) the repressive state apparatus that has hit protesters with full force, (2) the killing of civilians by armed pro-government groups, and (3) the decision of the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to allow police repression of protests that haven’t been previously authorized, even if they are peaceful.

protest-crackdown
Regime repression towards the peaceful uprising has been swift, and now those in enforcement do not even pretend to have violence as a justifiction: mere lack of approval is sufficient. Source: PanAm Post staff.

A report on Venezuela published yesterday by human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRG), entitled “Punished for Protesting: Rights Violations in Venezuela’s Streets, Detention Centers, and Justice System,” confirms the illegitimate force used by police and military forces, challenges the performance of judicial officers in safeguarding the human rights of protestors, and documents 45 cases involving 150 victims of human rights violations.

In general, it shows that the Venezuelan judicial system has failed to protect people from abuse of state power, and actually facilitated the violation of due process. In that sense, HRW calls for restoring credibility in the Supreme Court with a transparent re-selection of its judges.

The violence perpetrated both by state and pro-government groups makes the average citizen increasingly weary of carrying out protest actions. Such arguments should be sufficient for those who question the country’s massive discontent. When people believe in democracy and human rights and are not willing to bear arms or use violent methods to express their ideas, it is understandable that they refuse to take the streets in this extremely tense situation.

The waning of the wave of protests initiated by Venezuela’s youth in the streets of Caracas and San Cristóbal shows that the student movement refuses to take a violent path of resistance. The recent repression and arrests of students in Zulia and Bolívar states, and the assault on University Fermín Toro (UFT) in Barquisimeto, perpetrated by armed civilian groups (colectivos), confirms the clear regime tendency to intimidate through violence.

However, more than the weight of evidence, Nicolás Maduro should fear the accumulation of public anger that increases in proportion to the restrictions imposed by the government on people’s ability to express themselves peacefully. Given this reality, it is not surprising that the Datanálisis survey revealed that 59.1 percent of people believe that Maduro must step down from power before the end of his presidential term.

Translated by Manuela Cambel.