While the eyes of the world and international media have been watching the dramatic events unfold in Ukraine, similar disputes between the people and government have been bubbling under the surface on the opposite side of the world – right on the USA’s doorstep in Venezuela.
Clashes between anti-government protestors and the Venezuelan government have been slowly intensifying since the middle of February.
At the time of writing, it is believed thirteen people have been killed during the protests in the country’s capital of Caracas. In the most recent tide of clashes, security forces of President Maduro’s government used tear gas to break up the crowds, consisting mainly of students.
Protests began following the alleged rape of a female student in the western areas of Tachira and Merida.The initially peaceful protests turned violent, resulting in the arrests of several students.
In a letter to the Guardian, someone known only as Scosti writes, “Venezuelans have a million reasons to protest. We have one of the highest murder rates in the world…rampant inflation” and a severe shortage of basic food stuffs in supermarkets.
The Venezuelan Observatory on Violence estimated that, in 2013 alone, 24,000 people were murdered, a figure which has risen by 14% on the previous year. Furthermore, inflation currently peaks at around 56% in the country, caused by “severe currency controls that have limited imports and exacerbated shortages”, according to the Financial Times.
Venezuela’s history is riddled with troubles.
The current President, Nicolás Maduro, came to power in early 2013; assuming power following the death of his predecessor and renowned Bolivarian socialist Hugo Chávez. Elections were then held in the April of last year in which Maduro narrowly came out on top. Chávez is an interesting character as he still appears to be playing a key role in the political struggles of Venezuela even after his death.
Chávez came to power in 1999 and immediately set about attempting to fix the country left to have from the previous neo-liberal government of Rafael Caldera. He implemented numerous reforms including participatory democratic councils, nationalisation, free medical clinics for the poor, and a stream of education reforms. Most of this he funded through the vast oil revenue available to the country.
However an attempted coup was made in 2002, pushed for by the country’s media and backed, according to Chávez, by the United States. The relationship between the US and Venezuela became very much strained following the electing of Chávez for several reasons. One of the most obvious being that Chávez was a socialist, which never goes well with Americans. Chávez also increased the sovereignty of Venezuela’s oil reserves, something America would also rather like to keep in its back pocket. However, the coup lasted all of 47 hours, and resulted in a pro-government movement which, bizarrely, was pushed by the majority of citizens.
The events of 2002 are being somewhat repeated now. Maduro accuses the unusually conservative student protestors of being backed by the USA, which has resulted in the expelling of three US diplomats from the country. Likewise, America has done a tit-for-tat and done the exact same to three Venezuelan staff.
It is also the case that, unfortunately for the protestors, Venezuela’s clashes are not the same as Ukraine’s.
Despite being what Reauters’ Ian Bremmer described as a “weak president”, Maduro still maintains control over the military, police, security forces, parliament and main oil company PDVSA.
Furthermore, Maduro’s party, the PSUV, retains much of the support from the government, assisted very much by the country Chávez sought to create.
Professor Sandra Angeleri states that “when we have something to protest against, individually or collectively, we look for a popular channel to express a policy change…The political framework of Venezuela is a participatory democracy, not only representative”.
She is not the only one of this mindset.
“We used to fight for free access to education, healthcare and such. Under Chávez’s government we improved as a society in many of these aspects”, writes blogger Jaraba Pineda. “People of the humbler social classes are not protesting because they have jobs, their children get schooling and a general access to healthcare”.
Nevertheless, despite these statements, people remain pessimistic on the economy. Furthermore, groups such as Amnesty International and the United Nations have raised serious concerns over the breaching of human rights in the country, arguing the pro-government forces have used “excessive…force” when dealing with protestors.
““The Venezuelan government has openly embraced the classic tactics of an authoritarian regime, jailing its opponents, muzzling the media, and intimidating civil society,” said José Miguel Vivanco of Human Rights Watch.
We appear to be in an era of political trends. Prior to this bout of anti-government protests in Ukraine and now Venezuela, we had those of Syria, Libya, Egypt. One thing we must bear in mind is that the media like what is popular. What we saw a few months ago in the latter three countries on the news media is still going on. It is a sad truth, but go to the international section of a good quality newspaper and somewhere on it you will likely find one country or another who has slid down the news agenda still struggling to find its feet again.
So next time you turn on BBC News or whatever, think about the things you’re not seeing, as opposed to those you are. It might just shock you.