A guide to the foreigner: Venezuela, today

martes, 18 de febrero de 2014 - Publicado por Victoria Guerra S. en 12:33


Let’s start from the beginning: the Venezuelan government faces serious problems that have gotten rapidly worse over the course of the past year. The streets are nearly impossible to transit (due to insecurity, traffic, malfunctioning public transport; take your pick); the mainstream press and media has slowly gotten less free over the years (radio stations have been shut down, the opposition-led channel RCTV was taken off the air nearly seven years ago, the main opposition news channel was recently bought and its politics suspiciously changed); the shortage of food supplies leaves the citizen in a perpetual hunt between markets and grocery stores trying to find anything, anywhere (not to mention the shortage of medication, printing paper, and from time to time fuel even though oil is the only major export product in Venezuela); the central government has armed paramilitary groups such as the Tupamaro that often cause mayhem within our borders; the industry has decreased formidably (causing a growth of informal economy, which is to say, workers with no social security whatsoever); there is hardly any foreign currency left in the Central Bank for imports (in a country that depends on foreign products to feed itself because the industry revolves almost completely around oil) and much less for regular citizens; we have the highest inflation rate on the planet…
I could fill these pages solely enumerating the issues Venezuela deals with during the current Administration. The relative “calm” among citizens is due to different factors depending on the economic sector one deals with: in the most impoverished sides of the population, there is something called “Misiones” (programs of social aid, relatively successful, that range from literacy to giving out houses) that the population is afraid to lose if the regime were to fall; in the diminished middle class, there is a general feeling of tiredness after 11 years where no solution has managed to improve things; and also, there is a definite fear over State repression to any sign of protest.
I’ll allow myself a paragraph about these Misiones: undoubtfully some efforts have been praiseworthy (I applaud Misión Barrio Adentro, a program which has created first aid centers in impoverished communities – even if the program has had many failings and the paramedics are never Venezuelan but always Cubans “borrowed” from the Castro regime), but these social policies have mostly been superficial government gifts and never solutions to the core problems (for example, bigger medical treatments are still done in hospitals, where there are no supplies and the physicians have to perform guerrilla-like medicine), and also have fed the perpetual Venezuelan issue of State dependency for it to solve every single problem of the population (“teach a man how to fish” is not a very popular way to see things in my country).
On the other side of the political fence, the Venezuelan opposition has made every mistake possible in the course of these last fifteen years. They have avidly called to lawlessness giving the pro-regime party reasons to repress it; they have yielded spaces (in 2006, the opposition retired from parliamentary elections and easily handed out the entire law-making power to the pro-regime party); in 2002 they called a general strike of two months that put us economically past a point of no return (also serving as an excuse for the administration to fire most of the employees of the State oil company, PDVSA, and replace them with government supporters often lacking in knowledge to fill their new posts) and, finally, this gave the Administration a perfect reason to implement a foreign exchange control that remains to this day.
For a while now, the actions of the opposition parties have been more wise – but still, it is not enough. It is not enough when, while the student sector protests, the politician who called for manifestations (Leopoldo López, who now has a warrant out for his arrest for this very reason) has washed his hands from what’s going on. Is is not enough to have indecisive politicians that won’t step up to the plate when the country they try to lead (though, mind you, not really defend) is falling to pieces.
What goes on in Venezuela today looks a lot like the Occupy protests around the world in 2011:  the political elites are out of touch with their people, there is a general feeling of discomfort with the current state of things, the information and call for action is being managed from social networks, there are protests all around the country, the demands are not altogether too clear. If this is handled well, we could be witnessing something along the lines of the Arab Spring.
Is violence the solution to all of this? I want to think it isn’t, but at this point I do understand whoever thinks otherwise – and I don’t know how to find a way to manage this beyond that. I would like to, but I don’t know if we have been left enough space by authorities to do it anymore.
The demonstrator that takes up the streets today is definitely a middle-class subject: with all the media silencing, the information about what’s going on can only be found online, and it’d be fooling ourselves to say the entire Venezuelan population is connected. However, the problems we are facing are no less palpable because this isn’t coming from the poorest of the country. The issue of this venture is not knowing where it is we’re going: the traditional leadership won’t make up its mind and the people are angry and bordering desperation, without any plans or a clear agenda.

This might be where it ends, or it might grow into something powerful. But something is definitely going on in my country, and we need the world to know it.