A first-person account of the current chaos in Venezuela from Guido Núñez-Mujica, a Boing Boing reader and biotech entrepreneur who calls the South American country his homeland.
In Venezuela today, Twitter is partially blocked, television stations are being pulled offline, protesters have been "disappeared", human rights are being violated and heavily armed paramilitary groups roam free.
If you haven’t heard about the situation in my country, it’s not surprising. The government is actively suppressing news, and policies of “communicational hegemony” are starting to pay off.
Right after Nicolás Maduro won the elections after Chávez’s death, in a highly disputed process, Venezuelans started protesting. Many of them believed this was electoral fraud.
The government reaction to the protest was swift at two levels: Brutal repression and highly sophisticated propaganda techniques. This escalated to a point where the government actually accused the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, of murder and arson, claiming that his followers burned hospitals and murdered six people. But the state could offer no evidence to support any of these claims. That drama fizzled out, but a lot of people remained unhappy.
Since then the Venezuelan government has devalued our currency twice (the black market rate is 7 times higher than the official rate), inflation has risen to be the highest on the planet, the crime keeps increasing and scarcity of even the most basic food items and toiletries has become a part of daily life for millions of Venezuelans.
All this has just increased the discomfort of Venezuelans, even of some of those who voted for Maduro.
Despite the fact that Chavez-Maduro have been in power for the last 15 years, that it controls our parliament, despite the fact that media have been silenced with strict laws and threats and bought by friendly plutocrats, despite the fact that there is Internet censorship of pages criticizing the government and its allies (like Infodio.com, specialized in naming high-ranking Bolivarian oligarchs), our problems just increase. The government, despite all its propaganda, cannot solve them.
We have more crime than 15 years ago. Professional salaries of what used to be middle class professions are not enough to live on. Scarcity of everyday necessities has increased despite all the economic measures. There is rampant corruption that is ignored, as it comes from government supporters. Politicians from the opposition have been physically assaulted, publicly shamed and involuntarily outed as gay.
No amount of propaganda can hide the fact that Venezuela is in a bad situation caused by terrible public policies and management, despite being an oil producing country that exports millions of barrels to the US, among other countries.
The people are angry because after being promised paradise, we are living in a nightmare.
And angry people can easily turn violent.
Since Feb 12th, when a student demonstration was organized via social media, the Venezuelan people have been on the streets to demand the release of some of these students, who were swiftly sent to a military prison, in a country where serious crimes are seldom punished.
This time, unlike in previous occasions, the demonstrations even reached the poorest areas of major cities.
To thwart the protests the government not only uses the police and the army, even getting to the point of sending them against unarmed people, and using them to destroy the gates of building complexes, but the government also uses paramilitary colectivos that attack demonstrators openly, sometimes even in front of the police, often riding motorcycles and heavily armed.
Since the beginning of the demonstrations a lot of video evidence of abuse against citizens has emerged. More surfaces each day.
A number of people have been murdered, some of them right in front of cameras, and the government is censoring the news-- even to the point of removing the Internet access from a whole region of the country, in order to prevent the ability of people there to organize using social media. In addition to confirmation from Twitter that it was blocked in Venezuela, additional confirmation of internet censorship comes from the services Hotspot Shield and TunnelBear, who have made their apps available for free to the people living in Venezuela.
No matter one’s political opinion and thoughts about the Venezuelan government, it has committed and is now committing terrible crimes against its citizens. While all this violence was going on, President Nicolás Maduro was congratulating the colectivos, and calling for peace, while some of his governors were calling for a “fulminant counterattack” using Twitter, on a demonstration where a young woman died, shot possibly by the colectivos, and the president himself ordered a pro-government demonstration in the same place where an opposition demonstration was already scheduled.
The government also accused opposition leader Leopoldo López of murder and arson, when a group of angry people burned the office of the public prosecutor to demand the liberation of the imprisoned students. López turned himself in, and, in a bizarre turn of events, claimed it was protecting him from people in the opposition who wanted him dead. It is such a bad thing that the government cannot protect the demonstrators from thugs that are murdering them, nor can it protect the rest of the Venezuelans from the wave of crime that we have been suffering for years.
This is painful to me not only as a Venezuelan, but in more general terms. Venezuela had plenty of resources to achieve more. Even if the old days were not perfect, they were better than we have now, with a torn country on the verge of a very asymmetrical civil war, where most of the guns are held by one side.
With the sudden increase in the oil price, we could have improved our country and moved on to a more prosperous, better society, respectful of diversity and committed to preserve human rights. Compared to other countries in our region we don't have many achievements to show, considering the billion and billions of dollars we earned but squandered. We can, however, show you a lot of propaganda and nasty words to the US while we fill the their war planes and tanks with Venezuelan oil.
Rather than following the beautiful, inspiring examples of Scandinavia, Finland and other countries where the poor are well taken care of and there freedoms of assembly, and political rights to dissent, we decided to imitate Cuba and become chums with such charming fellows as Yayyah Jammeh, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Teodoro Obiang. Tarja Halonen has nothing on Ghadaffi, it seems.
I would like to ask my fellow progressive geeks and happy mutants to support the people of Venezuela against their government, or at least to to understand that the fact that many of us are against it does not make us rich, right wingers or supporters of the US.
No human being deserves to be killed or hurt because of their political position, or to have their opinion silenced because they don’t accept the official dogma. Progressives cannot be silent or supportive of these kinds of atrocities, even when they come from regimes nominally opposed to the US.
This is not about the US, this is about Venezuelans being oppressed and murdered. Everything else is secondary.
For more information on Venezuela, check out Caracas Chronicles.
[Photo: A supporter of opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez sets fire to a barricade during a protest against Nicolas Maduro's government in Caracas, February 19, 2014. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins]
Published 2:06 pm Fri, Feb 21, 2014
About the AuthorGuido Núñez-Mujica [web] is a Venezuelan entrepreneur in biotechnology, and a computational biologist.
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