There are a number of very good videos on the web and on Thought Catalog bearing witness to the appeals by Venezuelans to acknowledge their struggle against what they see as an oppressive and dictatorial regime but here I want to provide a short one that discusses the root cause of unrest there. Most media outlets assume a lot of prior knowledge but it’s worth taking a few minutes to have it all laid out for you.
I’ll try to contextualize this first though because the video does not discuss now deceased former President Hugo Chavez as much as I believe it should have. Suffice to say that when Hugo Chavez was elected in 1999 the poor of the nation were much, much poorer than they are today. Chavez came into power as a man of the people and promised to reduce poverty. He did. The poverty rate in Venezuela fell from 49.4% in 1999 to 27.8% in 2010. That’s roughly 200% better than the rest of Latin America. Chavez was massively popular as a people’s champion and survived at least one coup attempt by the United States in 2002. He was re-elected twice by the widest margins in Venezuelan history and was elected a third time but was not sworn in (he died). He also gave the state control over nearly every important industry in the country in order to lessen what he saw as exploitation of Venezuelan workers and resources going back to the colonial period.
Current President Maduro, therefore, had one heck of a difficult legacy to live up to and he was barely elected in the first place, winning by less than 1% of the vote. There is massive pushback against Venezuela’s state run economy by private interests in the region that originally opposed Chavez nationalizing any aspects of the economy in the first place. So, it’s not simply a matter of the people rising up against Maduro’s government. There are old scores at stake here that have been brought to the fore by a near 35% inflation rate for 2014 (something that Americans WOULD NOT abide for a single second), a murder rate of 45.1 per 100,000 (the US murder rate is 4.7), and lack of basic supplies and goods. Toilet paper was apparently so rare in 2013 that the government took over a toilet paper factory to prevent hoarding.
If the above was the situation in the States then I can guarantee that Americans would likely be doing the exact same thing Venezuelans are doing in our own way and while some in the media are characterizing the protests as a referendum on Chavez’s economic policies it’s just not that clear cut.