Between the Ukraine, Iraq, ISIS and Ebola, we seem to be conveniently forgetting that there are still big issues afoot in South America, particularly in Venezuela. With government turbulence, food shortages, fear and tyranny, a beautiful country is looking pretty ugly to live in. I look at an account from a Venezuelan who happens to be my friend – her struggles put daily living on the other side of the world in to perspective.
It is complacency that prevents us from truly appreciating the freedom that we in the UK enjoy daily. It is also what stops us from relating to the fear felt by those that live in other countries that struggle against repression, deprivation and emotional turmoil.
The world has recently watched on as countries that lack democracy and the security of civil liberties, rise up, and seize the moment. The people have found their voice and through that, have found the power in public unity. With events such as the ‘Arab Spring’, in less than three years rulers and governments had been removed in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria, Libya and now most recently with movements in the Ukraine. They have become beacons to all who strive for peace and freedom.
Venezuela is one such country that has taken a stance against its government. However, Venezuela has important differences from the episodes of revolution and counterrevolution in the Middle East and the Ukraine. Venezuelans have fifty years of experience electing their leaders, as well as constitutional mechanisms to remove them from office if and when they become unpopular with the people.
What generated its current situation arguably started with the death of one man, the countries late President, Hugo Chávez. Venezuela holds huge political divide, split between ‘Chavistas’ those who were devout supporters of Chávez’s ideologies and the recently formed party of Mesa de la Unidad Democatica whom make up much of the opposition with a more socialist line of policy.
Sanctions and curfews
With Chavez’s passing, the opportunity was created for opposition supporters to rally against the government, with this, the incoming President Nicolas Maduro and his government responded by applying economic sanctions, enforcing curfews, halting utilities and preventing the distribution of goods. The effects of this political discourse on the people of Venezuela were vast, and as such they too responded.
In the hope that the situation would go away, the government tried not to acknowledge any of the hostilities that were growing. State run media showed no coverage of what was really happening, but instead, held a stance of ‘business as usual.’
Students in the Andes states, Tachira and Merida, many of whom attend the Universidad de Los Andes, were involved in the initial protests against the government and have continued to resist and rally together. With the press and media of the country not representing the people, a reliance on social media was formed, as used before with great effect in Egypt.
I have travelled to Venezuela; it is a beautiful country with majestic landscapes and the most hospitable of people. I have friends there who are my age, and have been caught directly in the line of these troubles. When I spoke with them about what is happening, very few of them would tell me about their experiences knowing I was writing an article for publication, the only one that did was so scared of me publishing her name, I had to promise I wouldn’t. If her fear of being indentified doesn’t highlight the oppression they are experiencing, very little more will.
For the purposes of the article, I refer to her as “Amorella”, 22, who lives in the town of Merida and studies at the Universidad de Los Andes. She shared with me her feelings, her fear and her passion for change.
I live in Mérida, a beautiful and quite place, surrounded by mountains and magical landscapes: my home. It ceased to be peaceful in February when a wave of violence from the government came, they entered family residences and destroyed their cars and they scared people with their guns.
For this reason, students in the state began to join together, then the police repressed them and finally the protests were spread to the other states. Gradually, more issues joined the protest: insecurity, food shortages, social discontent and the economical crisis. We had a group on Whatsapp and every member used to send pictures, videos and voice notes of the situation: the situation was crazy.
When people realised that they were not safe even in their homes, they started to build barricades with old things: ovens, beds, refrigerators, sofas, garbage – everything and anything we could find. Every time that the police, the military or the security forces approached these barricades, the atmosphere became complete war. I was worried because of my friends and my older sister who live in the city, sometimes my sister called me while she was locked in her bathroom, crying and scared, and I could hear the shooting by the phone.
The university closed, the shopping centres closed, almost everything closed. The anarchism was in the streets: stores were pillaged. I was terrified, I did not even want to leave my home, it was not the Mérida that I love.
Emotionally, I feel terrible because I have not gone to the university in two months, I want to learn, I want to be a normal student, I want to graduate, I want to be someone and I want to give a little piece of me to Venezuela. But if the government does not do anything to solve this issue, this will not cease and therefore I will not be someone while I am at home feeling useless because I cannot study and move forward with my life. Sadly, Venezuela is divided. People do not respect the ideologies of each other and I think that the reality of our country is not going to change if we keep acting this way. We need to join together and respect each other, we need better leaders, leaders who love this wonderful and beautiful country.
The political landscape in Venezuela is shifting, and the protests of the people have outlived the government’s capability to control them. They can’t stop the resounding voice of the people. It’s our responsibility to give a voice to those that don’t have one, giving them the chance to be heard. There is hope, recent government meetings have met with civil society sectors, business leaders, and those in the opposition parties with a hope of coming together and pulling back from the edge of self destruction, addressing economic and security issues.
Real change will only come if and when the government acknowledge what their citizens want, and peace and democracy will only be restored when those who have caused the friction, protests and riots, realise there are better ways to achieve their goals.