Let me tell you how you just became an important part of an entire country’s future. Maybe you care, maybe you don’t, but if you are reading this it’s because you are at least curious. So please, keep reading… At least so you look knowledgable when someone else talks about the subject around you. What you decide to do later with what I am about to tell you is a different subject.
So, what’s going on?
Venezuela has been under the governance of Hugo Chavez’s ideology – Socialism of the XXI Century – for the last 15 years. I will try not to get into my personal beliefs and opinions about the system, but the fact is that the opposition has been constantly growing and now is, or at least seems to be, the vast majority. The country is facing an economic and social crisis, but the government’s incompetence led by the current president Nicolás Maduro has resulted in what I call a 360° crisis.
On February 12th, Youth Day in Venezuela, the Student Movement – a strong opposition group led by students – called all students to join them in protest against violence and insecurity. However, as students raised their voices, the protests evolved and many Venezuelans joined. So why do they protest now? These are the main reasons:
Venezuela is among the most dangerous countries in the world, even more dangerous than some countries in war. In Iraq 9,472 people were killed during 2013; in Venezuela that number was 24,700+. Yeap! That’s more than double and it represents a murder every 20 minutes! What worsens it is the impunity; what could we expect if 92% of crimes go unsolved? Fear is the norm.
This is a big one. Medicines are scarce in the entire country; the shelves in pharmacies are half empty. Even the hospitals are having serious problems with the lack of necessary medications and consequently thousands of patients cannot receive proper treatments. It has been estimated that the pharmaceutical industry faces a shortage of 40%. As if this was not enough, the most basic products are almost impossible to find. Milk, sugar, flour, cooking oil, chicken, some fruits, and toilet paper are a luxury in Venezuela. People stand in lines for hours every single day waiting to see if they can miraculously get some toilette paper so they can clean their ass (pardon my language but it’s the truth). Desperation has even caused massive conflicts inside the supermarkets where people fight over a bag of flour. This is one of the many videos that shows exactly what Venezuelans have to go through on a daily basis:
This one is no secret. The Venezuelan government is grotesquely corrupt. They claim to have increased the investment in social causes by 25% since Hugo Chávez first became president 15 years ago. However, even if this is true (although we all know it has been poorly invested and mismanaged) back in 1999 the oil price was around $9 per barrel; today it fluctuates around $100!!! THIS IS OVER A 1,000% INCREASE!! It’s been 16 years and Venezuela has the lowest economic growth index (1%) of Latin America! So where has all the money gone? Clearly, the government, a group of corrupt functionaries and a few businessmen have stolen thousands of millions of dollars from the Venezuelan people. (To all of you filthy cynic thieves, I hope you rot in jail sooner than later. It’s coming). Ohhh! And don’t let me begin with public corruption… Police officers are more of the people’s enemies than their protectors. I’m not saying all of them, but many are involved in arm and drug dealing, robberies and kidnapping. Let’s just say that if a police patrol tries to stop you at night, you better hit that gas pedal and run Forest run.
Devaluation and Inflation
Venezuela is facing an economic crisis and it’s on the verge of an economic collapse. I’ll assume you are not an economy expert so I will try to keep it as simple as possible. Bear with me.
Ten years ago, Chávez implemented a currency control that restricts the flow of dollars in and out of Venezuela. Basically, if you want dollars, you have to buy them from the government and they decide whether to sell them to you or not. Since then, they have devaluated the Bolívar – our currency – five times. This means that our currency is worth less; we can buy less dollars with the same amount of Bolívares (Bs). Hmm… But, you might ask how that affects the average Venezuelan who gets paid in Bs. and spends in Bs.? Simple. The government’s mismanagement of the economy during the last 16 years has led the local industries to bankruptcy. Most companies, both private and public, have been forced to stop production because they were losing money. As a result, around 70% of all items consumed in Venezuela are imported. The consequence? INFLATION. Inflation rates are the highest in the continent; last year it registered 56,2% but it is estimated that during 2014 inflation will reach an astonishing 75%. To give you a point of comparison, in the US inflation was 1.5% in 2013. So what does this mean? It means that the price of almost everything in Venezuela has increased astonishingly. The market basket of basic food costs Bs.8,590 which is three times more than the minimum wage of Bs.3,270. The problem is evident; the average Venezuelan has to fight to find the most basic products, and the ones they can get are too expensive.
**Of course the issues are deeper and more complicated than what I attempt to explain here, but this is not an economics class. Forgive me if you are an economist!
Human Rights Violations
Since the protests started, Human Rights have been violated all around the country. 14 people have been officially reported as murdered and a 21 year-old male student declared to have been raped with a riffle by the military. Hundreds of students and civilians have been arrested, sexually assaulted, tortured, kidnapped, severely injured, and violently repressed by the police, the military and paramilitary groups. These last ones are Venezuela’s guerrilla group and are known as “Tupamaros”. They are heavily armed, trained and violent. They have deep social resentment and hatred against the opposition. They claim to have no association with the government but evidence shows the contrary. They go around the cities at night in motorcycles, assaulting anyone and anything, breaking into buildings, and even killing people. It really is horrid and terrifying. Here are some of the many videos that people have been able to record with their phones. Even if you don’t understand Spanish, you can listen to the panic and fear in the voices of the people:
The president Nicolás Maduro constantly states that Venezuela enjoys a beautiful democracy… Beautifully rotten is what I think he really means. Reality is that this government threatens, punishes and persecutes anyone who opposes them. Last week, Maduro ordered the capture and imprisonment of the opposition’s rising leader, Leopoldo López. First of all, it is against the law that the president requests the incarceration of any citizen; that is the job of the Judicial Power, which is supposed to be independent and clearly isn’t. And second, Leopoldo did not commit any crimes; he is innocent and thus, his human rights are being violated.
Moreover, many radio stations and TV channels have been eliminated from Venezuela throughout the last 16 years for supporting the opposition and showing information that the government didn’t want the people to see. More recently, the government “bought” (probably by force) Globovisión, the last public channel from the opposition. Only a few days ago, the government ordered to remove NTN24, a Colombian channel, from all Venezuelan cable because they were showing the violence occurring during the protests. After that, they threatened to remove CNN en Español and cruelly forced their globally recognized reporter, Patricia Janiot, to leave the country immediately. To top it all, due to scarcity increases, newspapers are having real issues finding paper, thus keeping up with their duty to inform through print. The existing media channels in the country are cowards; they don’t dare to show anything that might upset the government. The only one still standing is CNN en Español that despite the threats has kept informing (thank you!). However, this channel is only seen through private cable; around 90% of the country has no access to it. This is why social media has become the opposition’s biggest weapon. There is absolutely no way of knowing what is going on in the country besides Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. There were reports that some Twitter accounts and pictures were being censured a few days ago but that is not stopping anyone.
THIS IS WHERE YOU COME IN!
Social media is our only weapon. Social media is our voice. Social media is the only window to Venezuela’s reality.
What can you do?
Share, share, share, share. Speak to your friends and family about it. Share this article, share any pictures, videos or posts that you see about Venezuela. We need to raise awareness. We want the world to know. We need international organizations to notice. We need the governments of the world to take a stand against the violation of human rights. We need the leaders of the world to condemn the violence that the Venezuelan government is taking against its people.
Speak up for us! Become the voice of a country that needs your help. Become the voice of freedom and justice.