Stop blaming the USA for the protests in Venezuela
Melissa Ayesterán is a Venezuelan living in the UK. Her article below is a response to an article written by Christopher McMahon on Venezuela earlier this week.
What an innocent, uninformed and one-sided article written in complete disregard for the current problems that Venezuelans face every day, which are the cause and constant fuel to the unrest. I understand the author may have fallen prey to the leftist propaganda that has been so well received by academics this side of the Atlantic in the past, but I would still expect some sort of fact-checking and respect before publishing such a deluded Chavez-loving piece.
These are student protests, from all straits of society. The rich and “old political elites” in Venezuela are now the people in government who have become offensively rich while the country is spiralling out of control. Inflation has now reached 56%, scarcity of basic goods such as flour, cooking oil, toilet roll, nappies, hygiene products, etc. is rampant and insecurity is now close to unbearable. An attempted rape in a university campus sparked a wave of protests that now encompasses all the demands of the people. Yes, middle class is a major part of these protests. Funny how they are demonised; it would be interesting to see the author of the article try to use public transport in Caracas or attempt to do his weekly shop in a supermarket in a provincial area, let alone walk down the street at night.
The old anti-USA propaganda is now comedic, as they are the ones buying our oil and actually paying market rate for it (unlike Cuba for example). Maduro has now reached out to Obama and asked him to participate in peace talks, instead of acknowledging the thousands (yes thousands) of people calling for the disarmament of paramilitary groups. He has, however, invited people to dance for Carnival and for the ‘colectivos’ to protect the peace. A ‘colectivo’ is an armed group that openly supports and defends the revolution, scaring people off the street with guns and destroying everything that crosses their path. Over 12 deaths in the past 3 weeks of protests, Maduro has not condemned the ‘colectivos’ but the unarmed protesters. There are countless videos and photos that prove the excessive violence that the National Guard and the ‘colectivos’ have used to repress protests, or even to keep people in their homes. You talk about a few tricked pictures online, I can tell you that my family and friends have had to run away from violent groups, and even turned lights off so that the ‘colectivos’ do not think they are home and start shooting. They have destroyed cars, fences, gone into private student halls and thrown tear gas inside the buildings. I’d like to see the author of the article agree with something like this happening in the UK.
Social media has played a major role in the protests, as the national channels have all been censored, even privately owned ones, have now been silenced by the government. On the 12th of February, while protesters were being chased away by groups of armed thugs in motorbikes, national TV stations showed cookery shows and soap operas. A complete media blackout that left Venezuelans in the dark (more than normal, as power cuts affect the country regularly) and made Twitter the best tool for protesters to post real time information about the situation. The government also tried to block Twitter, and has tried to pump as much pro-regime propaganda as possible in the state-led TV stations -which is most of them- while it is expelling from the country the only stations reporting on the real situation: NTN24, a Colombian station, was pulled off the air for their coverage of the protests, and CNN had briefly their permits revoked and its reporters chased out of the country. Their permits have now been reinstated. Kicking CNN out does not uphold the democratic facade that the Chavista government needs in the international scene. Many international reporters and cameramen have reported abuses and have even been robbed of their equipment. I sincerely do not understand how the writer can agree with a government’s threat to freedom of speech, and I wonder how he would react if David Cameron decided he did not like any television shows that portrayed him in a bad light.
The abuse by the ‘colectivos’ under the complicit gaze of the National Guard has included arbitrary detentions, excessive violence and torture. Many NGOs have denounced the shocking situation of human rights in Venezuela, finally getting the attention of international media. Sadly, some people will read the one-sided view expressed by some academics still hypnotised by the utopia that was the Venezuelan revolution. In 2013, one person died every 27 minutes in Venezuela, which is the equivalent of a 747 plane crashing every week, 52 weeks a year. In a country where there is no civil war, it is not about two armed sides fighting, it is about one side protesting for a better quality of life with rocks, tree trunks to block the streets and pots and pans to make noise; against the military, economic and political might of the government, along with paramilitary armed groups and their international accomplices who support this monstrosity.
How contradictory it is to be a socialist in Venezuela today: live lavishly, drive a hummer, fly in private planes and not worry about insecurity as your bodyguards and armoured cars will not let reality touch you. Chavez increased the budget for the Presidency (personal care for him and his family, including travels and donations) by 638% from 2009 to 2010 alone. After 15 years of complete power and control of all institutions in the country (including the oil industry and the biggest proven oil reserves in the world), how is it that our economy is not in better shape? Blaming the USA is a farce and an easy way out when all the indicators point more towards a society in shambles, than to a socialist paradise.