My cousin wrote this, please read and share
(picture from nydailynews.com)
I have been following the news on the protests in Venezuela and would like to share more information with the people in the United States.
I am not sure how to get this information out and would appreciate your help.
Even though I am part Venezuelan, I grew up not knowing a lot about Venezuela or the situation there. A couple of years ago I gave a presentation for one of my College classes. The idea was to give an informative speech about Latin America. I chose to speak about Hugo Chavez and Chavismo.
I picked this as my subject because I’d heard comments around the house from my dad but, didn’t feel I had the whole story and the news in the US really doesn’t cover it either.
My Perspective on Chavez and Chavismo –
Chavez was an officer in the Venezuelan army. He did not come from a wealthy family and was influenced by revolutionary movements in the 70s. He claimed to be influenced by Simon Bolivar – a Latin American equivalent to George Washington. After being jailed for heading a failed coup in 1992, he served 2 years and upon release he started a political party El Movimiento Quinta Republica (5th Republic Movement). In 1998 he was elected president. He led an effort to change the constitution in 1999, making changes to abolish presidential term limits, as well as lengthening a term from six to seven years and was re-elected under the new constitution in 2000. In 2002 there was a coup against the Chavez government that lasted 2 days but ended with military intervention, restoring Chavez to power.
In 2004 he won a recall vote; he made changes to the armed forces and adopted the Cuban motto, Patria Socialismo o Muerte (Country, Socialism or Death).At this time Chavez brought his supporters into the legislative and judicial branches and began nationalizing industries such as; oil, construction, food and communications. This is when he began to vilify the US. In February of 2009 he won a referendum that would allow him to be president for an indefinite time.During this time there were multiple protests against the government. Some people argued that Chavez was a champion to the people and his leadership brought about good things, such as internet to rural communities and social programs for education and medical care. At the same time there were accusations of misuse of public funds (Sending money to influence elections in other countries, supporting guerilla groups such as M-19, ELN and FARC),brain drain,and the failure to direct money for reconstruction after the disaster at Vargas. While it seems that Chavez did fairly win his first election, doubt has been cast on the legitimacy of later elections and referendums passed.
Since giving this presentation I have paid more attention to news stories about Venezuela, as well as seeking out more stories from family, passed along by my dad. Things have been growing steadily worse. In March of 2013 Chavez died after a fight with cancer. This left the position for President open. There was an election in which his vice President, Nicolas Maduro, was elected President, a result that has been strongly questioned. Throughout the election, Henrique Capriles seemed to be winning the popular vote, but at the end of the election the count said Maduro had won. Although Capriles insisted that there was of foul play and despite demanding a recount, rather than a recount, it was reported that military soldiers were burning the ballots.
Since this election there have still been major problems in the country. For the last few years I have heard about conversations my dad had with family members who said that while things were bad, they weren’t ‘that bad’ or had to get better soon. Along with the questionable elections, Venezuela is dealing with a shortage of basic goods, grocery stores are at any given time lacking 28% of essential items, things like milk, flour, sugar, meat and toilet paper. A huge inflation rate of 55%, to the point that there are two exchange rates,(a huge inflation rate of 55% has caused there to be two exchange rates,) the official rate and the unofficial black market rate. Other countries no longer use the official rate and go off of the black market rate. There has been a ‘brain drain’ with many of the engineers (civil, mechanical geological etc) leaving the country. A protestor has been quoted saying ‘“We Venezuelans do not have food. There are no jobs, no education. There is insecurity. We don’t want this anymore.” All of these variables have led to an incredibly high violence and crime rate.
In 2013 the deaths due to violent crime reached a record high with an estimated 24,763 deaths. This in a country of about 30 million people, to put this in perspective, there were approximately 15,000 deaths related to violent crime in the US in 2013, a country with more than 315 million people. In January of 2014, Monica Spear, former Miss Venezuela, her five year old daughter Maya and her ex-husband were shot as they waited for a tow truck on the highway, only Maya survived. This, along with a rape on a university campus February 2 2014, were the last straws for the people.
On February 12, Venezuela’s National Youth Day, students in the state of Tachira organized a peaceful protest in the streets. When students were killed by the Guardia Nacional ( a branch of the Armed Forces embodied to maintain internal order) the people of Venezuela came out en masse in over 75 cities throughout the country. I have seen Youtube video, and heard from family in Venezuela that there are groups (essentially motorcycle gangs) that are unofficially backed by the government in the streets with guns and tear gas . The government has made statements that their forces are only armed with standard riot gear, but the bullet casings found in the streets beg to differ. Students have been detained, and while records show that some students were released (with some released students claiming torture and rape with rifles) other students have simply disappeared.The violence has spread to more than just the people in the streets; there is video of tear gas canisters being shot into apartment complexes . Youtube video, family Facebook updates and news stories state that people giving refuge to students that have become targets as well.
Opposition leader, Leopoldo Lopez, who has been advocating peaceful protests, turned himself in after being charged with murder, inciting a riot, arson, conspiracy and terrorism is still being detained on the charges of arson and conspiracy. It has been reported that he has stood trial in the middle of the night inside the prison rather than a courtroom and is sentenced to ten years.
The government has shut down Twitter in Venezuela, has cut water, electricity and internet services off in the city of San Cristobal. Cuban troops have reportedly landed in Venezuela, and Russian war ships have been seen off the coast. As of 2/22/2014 the government confirmed death count is at 11, although with violence escalating in San Cristobal and news unable to come out it is possible the number is higher.
At this point, the death rate is much lower than those of the protests in Ukraine, but that does not make the situation any less important. In our country, that is founded on the idea of ‘By the People for The People’, the oppression and violence by agovernment against its people should not be allowed to go unnoticed.
Protesters take to the streets (image not mine)
San Cristobal last Tuesday (photo not mine)