A wave of anti-government demonstrations has been sweeping through Venezuela since early February. There have been at least 13 people been killed, 150 injured, and over 500 arrested.
Where exactly is Venezuela?
Venezuela is a country on the northern coast of South America that borders Columbia, Brazil, and Guyana. The Caribbean Sea is along the northern border. The country, which is nearly twice the size of California, is is one of the ten most biodiverse countries on the planet.
What is the cause of the conflict?
The protests began earlier this month when students demanded increased security after a female student alleged she was the victim of an attempted rape. (Venezuela has the fifth highest murder rate in the world and crime plagues many of its urban areas.) The protestors are also concerned about record inflation (official figures suggest yearly inflation in December 2013 stood at 56.2%) and shortages of basic food items. One in four basic goods is currently out of stock, according to the central bank’s monthly scarcity index released Feb. 10. Milk, for example, is reported to have been missing from supermarket shelves for months.
Who are the protestors?
The protest includes tens of thousands of Venezuelans – both protestors and pro-government counter protestors. Students were the first to take to the streets. According to the BBC, Venezuela’s student movement is unlike many Latin American countries in that it is largely conservative in its outlook.
What do the protestors want?
Because of the large number of protestors, the demands have become a bit muddled and indistinct. The government systematically equates protest with treason, so the people have, in a sense, been protesting in defense of the very right to protest.
Generally speaking, they are also in favor of releasing all those detained during previous marches (about 200 remain in jail), increased security, more open access to media and information, and for the country’s president, Nicolás Maduro, to step down.
Is the economic situation in Venezuela really that bad?
Venezuela’s main economic product is oil. The country produces about 2.5 million barrels of oil per day, about the same as Iraq. But that hasn’t been enough to prop up the failing economy. Newspapers have closed because they can’t import paper. Toyota has stopped making cars because it can’t get dollars to import parts. And shortages of sugar, milk, and butter, and other food staples are common.
In its 152-nation ranking, the Economic Freedom of the World Report has identified the Venezuela as the least economically free country in the world (Cuba, North Korea, and Eritrea weren’t included). Last year, Maduro, whose political views are described as close to the communist ideology, approved two laws that completely ended any semblance of free markets in Venezuela.
I saw something about #LaSalida on Twitter. What is that about?
#LaSalida is the Twitter hashtag being used by the anti-government protestors. It means “The Exit / The Solution” and is used as a rally call for Mr. Maduro to step down – “exit” – the presidency.
Why does it matter what a bunch of student protestors are doing?
In Venezula, student protesters have a decent track record for initiating political change. They helped spark the 2002 coup d’état against former President Hugo Chavez (the military reinstated him within 2 days, but still – it was an impressive effort).
These are not only the largest protests since Mr Maduro took office, but also Venezuela’s biggest protests in over a decade. The size of the protests makes them significant, though unless the lower economic classes join in they may have no long-lasting effect.
So the situation in Venezuela is similar to what is going on in Ukraine?
Not exactly. The protests in both countries are mainly about economic issues. But the situation in the Ukraine has broader geopolitical implications that involve both the European Union and Russia. Also, unlike in Ukraine, the government of Venezuela is not expected to collapse anytime soon, since the country’s president is still supported by the country’s military and much of Venezuela’s poor.
Why should (North) Americans care?
Venezuela is currently a narco-state, an area that has been taken over and is controlled and corrupted by drug cartels. The result is that the drugs and violence that originate in that country spill over into North America.
A return to the rule of law, respect for human rights, and free enterprise would be a boon to both the citizens of Venezuela and people throughout the Western Hemisphere.
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