What is happening today in Venezuela?
Venezuela has suffered a progressive deterioration over the past 15 years, which has been “made-up” thanks to high oil prices worldwide. During all this time, serious damage has been caused to the entire private production chain without having developed an official industry able to replace it. But the economic downturn is not the most serious facing the country today; there are many other problems such as safety, inflation, shortages, unemployment, lack of essential medicines, public health, and prison violence. All these issues have been obscured in recent years due to “emergency” government policies which do not correct the underlying problems but only reduce their short-term effects.
Let’s take a quick look at some of these problems in Venezuela today to better understand the protests that are happening daily in the country.
Since 2004, crime has risen about 10% annually. Just last year 24,763 homicides were recorded nationwide. This is much higher than in countries such as Mexico, where about 17,000 homicides took place during the same period of time, considering that the country has four times the number of inhabitants that Venezuela has and that Venezuela has pledged an open war against organized crime.
Violence in Venezuela has no political, racial, or economic orientation; former Miss Venezuela was murdered alike young workers and often children. It is a problem that speaks of a State which is unable or perhaps not interested in solving the county’s safety issue.
It can also be said that the Venezuelan judiciary system supports impunity; less than 8% of homicides are solved and most of them are not even investigated.
In Venezuela, there has been approximately one Minister of Internal Affairs and Justice per year during the last 15 years. None of them has been given the task to continue working on the previous line, much less seek support from experts in security. On the other hand, these ministers have been tolerant and respectful to parallel police armed groups as “La Piedrita” which executes its own laws a few blocks from Miraflores, the Government’s Palace.
Regional police corps is usually unarmed when an opposition candidate is elected by popular will as mayor or governor. However, it is common to see criminals using similar weapons as the State security corps, including grenades and tear gas weapons. Who provides them with these weapons?
Minimum wage in Venezuela, when compared to the value of the Bolivar informally known as the “parallel dollar”, is less than Nafl 100 in Curacao. But this is not the biggest problem that Venezuelan families face, even fortunate families with higher income must deal with the level of shortages of essential goods such as milk, chicken, toilet paper, and even many types of regular medicines which indicates the situation is getting worse.
Another scourge in the country which breaks all kinds of records is inflation. While across the continent inflation rates of 2013 did not exceed 10% (5% being average in most of them), in Venezuela inflation exceeded 56%.
Most of Latin America has grown so steadily in recent years. However, Venezuela, with its special condition of an oil country which should exhibit the best numbers, is having the worst results.
For years the government of Hugo Chavez, and now Nicolas Maduro, has been blaming such problems to consumers themselves, private investors, previous governments, the President of the USA, or to the Venezuelan soap operas. They have never seen with suspicion, at least publicly, their own economic policies, which are increasingly difficult for any entrepreneur or investor to adhere, whether they are local or foreign.
Hospitals, prisons, and roads
A president is essentially a manager. A president has under his responsibility the management of a whole country including its infrastructure, public services, and economy. If a manager allows his company’s facilities to deteriorate in the course of his tenure, he could not blame anyone else. He is responsible that his staff members comply with their duties.
The deterioration of the public hospital network, road infrastructure, prisons, and even road safety can have no other explanation than the government’s inability to exercise their most basic functions.
However, as in other cases, the government has a different explanation for each problem that has nothing to do with self-criticism.
It is interesting to see how a government that relies almost exclusively on “not-socialist” oil prices seeks to impose dealers and business owners to a profit margin in such unstable economy as the Venezuelan.
If we take a fixed markup of 30%, Venezuela should sell oil less than US$ 20 a barrel, but it does not. However, merchants and business owners are subjected to public ridicule for increasing their profit margin while they need to increase their employees’ salaries regularly and must import goods a dollar that continues to rise.
A trader or merchant who doubles their prices artificially does not make himself rich. He just makes his customers go to the competition. Trying to solve the problem of inflation by forcing prices is like trying to reduce fever controlling the thermometer.
The presidential legitimacy
There are many doubts about the election results that gave victory to Nicolas Maduro almost a year ago. These doubts could be dispelled allowing an electoral audit included the electoral rolls, action that was denied by the National Electoral Council. However, even assuming that valid result it is notable how the government has been unable to demonstrate that the current president Nicolas Maduro was born in Venezuela. If Mr. Maduro were not born in Venezuela, he would be constitutionally disqualified to chair the presidency of the country.
As Hugo Chavez closed the most prestigious and oldest Venezuelan television station, RCTV, and at least 34 radio stations in May 2007; a few months later his current heir continued to pursue what they themselves have called the “communicational hegemony” which is nothing but the total control of the news, and basically all media.
Today, almost all Venezuelans print newspapers are on the edge of closing for lack of paper. The latest television news station with an independent editorial line, Globovision, was bought by the government related businessmen after many years of fiscal harassment and numerous attacks on its facilities and reporters. Today, Globovision has become another television station which transmits fashion or sports while students are brutally attacked in their protests.
Perhaps, the greatest damage that has been done to the Venezuelan journalism has to do with “self-censorship”; that fear that makes a radio, television station, or newspaper to avoid producing content that may irritate the government.
It should be noted that these problems usually occur only in dictatorships.
Why are there protests in Venezuela?
After mentioning all the above and many other issues that we have omitted for reasons of space, the question we should ask is: Why aren’t there more protests in Venezuela?
In recent days we have seen student protests in different cities. We have seen major motorcycle groups demanding security. Doctors and patients are claiming better health services, communicators demanding their rights to information, people who are tired of queuing and not finding any food, while seeing as their loved ones are murdered.
As Venezuelans living in this country, we want to draw the attention of the entire Curacao community as to the origin of the protests and the way they are being repressed. Right now, there are numerous students, men and women, with shot wounds in different parts of their bodies. These wounds are made at very short distance openly violating any human rights legislation. However, none of this is being transmitted by the Venezuelan media.
We are very concerned about what might happen in Venezuela. The right to protest is essential in any democratic system. Many people are tired of government mismanagement and request changes. Venezuela is awakening from a long revolutionary dream based on a populist speech and especially with revenues that have little to do with productive work.
After many years of obedience the people are indicating other ways. It’s time for leaders to listen and support their people, and not vice versa.