Venezuela is immersed in a real internal crisis that began covertly in 2013, but has reached its peak in recent months. A recession that invests every sector, from the institutional and economic, to the social and humanitarian. Protests, unjustified arrests and violent reactions to anti-government protesters are on the agenda.
On 24 May 2017, Attorney General Luisa Ortega Díaz confirmed that from the first days of April, when the disputes were intensified, “55 people were killed and as many as 1000 were injured during the events.” Once considered one of the richest countries in Latin America, Venezuela is experiencing a period of uncertainty linked to several factors, but first of all to the difficulties faced by President Nicolás Maduro, who seems unable to bring the country back to stability. There is also a real attempt to conceal the media and repress the dissent from the government that instead of seeking concrete solutions, discharges its own failure to act on the opposition, accused of wanting to ‘destabilize the nation’ ‘. An Amnesty International report, in fact, provides a list of arbitrary actions undertaken by the Venezuelan authorities to suppress freedom of expression, such as arrests, without mandates, for “crimes against the motherland” against activists and the use of preventive detention. Meanwhile, the population dies of hunger and emigrates to other countries to escape poverty.
The “after-Chávez” and the election of Nicolás Maduro
Prior to the current president, Venezuela has been governed for 13 years by Hugo Chávez (1999-2012), the creator of the ‘Bolivarian Revolution’. The undaunted leader of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, with his vision of democratic anti-imperialist socialism, conquered the devotion of the weaker social classes. By exploiting, in fact, the vast oil resources of the country, it succeeded in ensuring a series of social reforms and the reduction of poverty and illiteracy. Shortly before his death, the beloved president had invited the Venezuelan people to vote for his heir, Nicolas Maduro, who would continue the revolution. However, since his election in 2013, with a very narrow margin (1.6%) – almost a prelude to what would happen later – the crisis has worsened. From the beginning, his guide turned out to be inadequate to handle the changes that were happening in the country. When, in the early months of 2015, supermarket shelves began to empty, the President commented on the tragic economic situation with a “God will provide”. Little tied to realistic solutions – such as the creation of a ministry for supreme happiness – this leader without charism is trying in all ways to cling to power with force, even though there are no conditions for governability.
Venezuelan politics is in fact blocked in a deadlock since December 2015, when the oppositions, assembled in a coalition, got 112 seats to 167 in the parliamentary elections. In March 2017 a motion was filed for Maduro’s indictment. Though it was approved by a large majority, it only resulted in the intervention of the Supreme Court, which exempted Parliament from its duties, leaving full powers to the President.
Attack on democracy
This ”clear break of the constitutional order” was skipped thanks to the same president who on the one hand is losing the consensus even among the followers of Chávez, on the other does not seem willing to induce the early elections required by the people, Who goes down continuously in the streets to protest. to discontent, the soldiers respond with unjustified arrest, blows, tear gas and firing at random on the population. Among the many, on June 3, 28-year-old Yoiner Peña was killed while returning home. Finding himself in the middle of an anti-government demonstration, out of the underground, was hit accidentally by a roaming bullet.
To increase tension, are also the colectivos bands, extreme defenders of the Bolivarian revolution, opposing the demonstrators with violence. Despite being in the minority, Maduro still holds strong power thanks to the self-proclaimed state of emergency, without the Parliament’s consent, and the corruption system that lurks in state apparatus. This enabled him to suspend the referendum for his dismissal organized by the opposition and to block the 2016 administrative and regional elections in fear of another electoral defeat. The fate of democracy is increasingly unstable since, on June 2, the Venezuelan Supreme Court declared that the President has the right to convene the constituent assembly for the constitutional amendment without the popular referendum.
Years of wrong choices: the bursting economic crisis
The Venezuelan economy is in an endless shortage. The state, totally out of stock, is forced to print more and more banknotes to finance public spending, but this vicious circle is nothing more than taking value off the currency and increasing inflation (already reached 800%). Also, a few days ago, the central bank devalued bolivar – the Venezuelan currency – of 63.9% over the dollar. Just to understand the gravity of the situation, José G. Márquez, a journalist with years of experience, earns a monthly salary of 15,000 bolivares, about $ 15.
As a result, companies – even though Venezuela is a country that imports more than half of what it consumes – no longer have access to various products and supermarket shelves remain empty.
Part of the blame can be attributed to the economic policies of recent years, too open to unsuccessful concessions, as to keep most of the products accessible even to the poorest. In this regard, selling prices were set below production costs and sellers no longer were able to produce at a pace that would meet everyone’s needs. So, in order to adopt the social reforms necessary to raise the standard of living of the lower classes, the Chávez government has been using profits of substantial oil resources but without diversifying the economy. Thus, when the price of black gold began to drop drastically due to the worldwide oil crisis, the state budget saw its (almost unique) revenue considerably reduced.
To make matters worse, external factors such as rising droughts and water shortage in artificial basins have been added, which has reached its historical minimum. Water, besides being essential for cultivation, is also one of the country’s major energy resources. Its shortage has caused considerable blackouts, which have led the government to reduce the public employees’ working week to two working days and set clocks a half hour back to gain light.
The “diet” Maduro
The Venezuelan National Assembly has announced the state of humanitarian crisis in food, while Human Rights Watch states that Venezuela is facing a humanitarian and human rights crisis. According to an inquiry conducted by three different Venezuelan universities, 81% of the population live in poverty. Eating has become a luxury now: Supermarkets are empty and lack essential goods such as food and medicine. Even bread is increasingly unavailable because of the rationing of the baker’s meal. In this tragic situation, people seek food in the trash and resort to hunting exotic animals, even eating poisonous food such as bitter manioc. Children in Caracas fight with dogs for food. The “Maduro diet” – so nicknamed by Venezuelans – has raised the infant mortality considerably: according to UNICEF, the Venezuelan rate (18.6%) would have surpassed even Syrian (15.4%). In addition, in the absence of food, purchases in the black market increase, where illegal imports of dollars and foodstuffs are available.
The situation in hospitals remains critical, although Maduro at the beginning of 2016 praised the efficiency of the Venezuelan health system. Hospitality, on the other hand, appears to be a place where there are no antibiotics and sterile tools to operate, while doctors use smartphones to analyze X-rays due to lack of computer availability.
Despite the tragic situation, Venezuelans and civil society organizations continue to give voice to their discontent, continuing to protest uninterruptedly for over 80 days, by now risking their lives to seek justice.
Traduzione di Lucia Loddo.