For over two months, Venezuela has been in the news around the world. The street protests throughout the country have made people sit up and look. But it seems like the thousand or so people detained in the first month didn’t cause many restless nights in the wealthy societies of the North. The USA in particular was more intent on adding fuel to the fire rather than seeking a peaceful end to the confrontations.
So today, Venezuela is burning. But it is important to remember that it has been burning for many decades now. Venezuelans call their country the “Land of Grace”, but that is not the whole truth. In an immensely rich country, countless citizens live in dire poverty. And that is completely unjustifiable.
For decades and decades, the South American country has been suffering from the exploitation of its multiple resources by foreign companies, in connivance with the governing creole class. From the discovery of oil in the nation, it seemed destined to supply the oil refineries of the USA and Europe – to be a country living off its oil wealth. There was no production, manufacturing, or wealth creation. Such things could have been dangerous to the foreign and national elites.
And that rich, corrupt, governing class ruled for years and years, with the vast majority of the population simply eating the crumbs that fell down from above. Many people had to move to cardboard houses in neighbourhoods on the outskirts of cities, where they would struggle to survive. Millions upon millions of miserable children have spent their childhood in cardboard houses. And the leeches in the governing class were never interested in the progress of their people, only in their sweat and their labour.
And then Hugo Chávez and his Bolivarianism appeared, changing the Constitution, patriotic symbols, and the rules of the game, with the objective of redeeming the poor. However, there was little participation from the poor themselves. Instead of promoting the government of a people with their own brains and autonomy, the ruling party has nurtured excessive paternalism, reliance on leaders, and authoritarian tendencies.
Amidst the recent protests, the current government has aimed to implement its “Patriotic Plan”, behind which lie: the restriction of democratic freedoms characteristic of a totalitarian system of government; the absence of public politics to confront legal and popular insecurity; and brutal repression of dissidents.
People have hit the streets to fight for change, with youngsters sparking protests supported by large numbers of citizens who trust neither Chavismo or the fragmented parties of the opposition.
And why wouldn’t they take to the streets – the space of the People – when hospitals lack supplies and shops run short on food; when the enrolment fees for private universities have doubled; when precarious work has increased; when inflation has risen to the highest levels in the world; when their friends and family members – 25,000 a year – are murdered in the middle of the street, in a country where an estimated 12,000,000 firearms exist; and when, in the last 13 years, a billion dollars have entered the country as a result of oil sales?
The protests have been met with excessive and abusive repression – using means banned by Bolivarian legislation and, allegedly, paramilitary groups that detain and torture dissidents. But some protesters have also been involved in violent acts, with Chavistas and innocent citizens dying as a result. Dozens of lives have been lost amidst this violence.
Dialogue is the only solution, but a real dialogue, which focusses on the common good of all Venezuelan people. Such an objective would need: a substantial change in the government’s attitude; an end to repression; an acceptance of proportionality in public institutions; greater press freedom; a change in economic policy; and the liberation of political prisoners. We all know that, in order for this (or any) top-down government to change substantially, it is necessary for society to apply peaceful pressure in the streets.
The path forward is not easy if people can’t see hope for the future; if they are hungry; if factories are falling to pieces; if there is an overreliance on imports; if electricity cuts and water shortages are a constant; if corruption and inefficiency are rife in the government; and if society has been consciously divided into two irreconcilable groups.
Venezuela, and Hispano-America as a whole, can only build a more just future from a base of solidarity in which the People, both individually and collectively, are the main political protagonists. Without this base, authoritarianism and slavery will always be just around the corner, whether Adecos, Copeyanos, or Bolivarianos are in government.
Translation by Oso Sabio which will appear at http://www.solidaridad.net/idioma/3/english