Comisión para los Derechos Humanos del Estado Zulia

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People Are Protesting, You Just Don’t Hear About It

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Caracas Chronicles

Agosto 07, 2019

Early in the past november, there was a protest of employees of the Central Bank of Venezuela near its offices in Caracas and Vladimir Caña, one of the protesters, said that when Nicolás Maduro decreed the last wage hike, they were satisfied, but that as the weeks went by they realized that what they earned wasn’t enough to buy three days worth of food.

Beyond the shock of knowing that someone’s discovering hyperinflation only this year, what’s important about this is that the popular notion that there are no protests in Venezuela is nothing more than a myth.

According to the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict, there have been over 9,000 protests so far in 2018, but unlike 2017 (with 6,729 protests) most have been popular demonstrations and they haven’t been called by anyone.

“Although the national government holds 87% rejection, the political opposition remains deeply divided and its leadership is diluted,” says political scientist Jesús Castillos Molleda. “The opposition won’t recover any rallying power in the short term because there are no leaders capable of inspiring dissident citizens. The protests that are being reported are sparked by complaints for the poor quality of public services, they’re spontaneous and don’t generate collective force.”

Despite their isolation, Molleda believes that they do harm the government because “little by little, their own sympathizers also join some of the protests, which could eventually become a natural collective catalyst.”

For María Inés Hernández, spokeswoman of the Committee for Human Rights of Zulia State, the explanation behind the huge amount of protests is simple: “complex humanitarian emergency,” which translates to human rights violations.

“The impoverishment of citizens, the difficulty to acquire food and this whole situation push people to degrees of frustration and despair that translate into social conflict. Nurses protest because their breakfasts consist of mangoes and they have no shoes to go to work.”

And indeed, the stories of protesters show that the so-called quality of life no longer exists in the country: citizens protest because they suffer five-day-long blackouts and complain that they’ve lost food in their fridges, and some of them are forced to cook with firewood because there’s no cooking gas where they live; nurses protest because their breakfasts consist of mangoes and they have no shoes to go to work.

Repression is on a high point. For instance, in Zulia, where Hernández works as a human rights defender, they have governor Omar Prieto, a chavista radical known for his violent discourse.

“Currently, security bodies engage in violence against protests driven by poor public services. I remember that on April 24, 30 people rallied before Corpoelec offices in the Amparo sector because they had spent 18 hours without electricity and an unidentified truck arrived, and men with rifles started arresting people who were released later, and assaulted a councilman. It’s common to see security bodies threatening people in any protest,” Hernández says.

Authorities usually justify repression with the excuse that blocking the roads harms other citizens, which is indeed an offense according to the criminal code and establishes prison time for culprits, but “there’s no excuse for repression,” Hernández adds, remembering that in 2017 some passersby who had nothing to do with the protests were affected, even murdered for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Hernández thinks that the situation is made all the more complicated because there’s “a failure in the political system that lacks institutional mechanisms to better channel people’s demands and thus we’re in a cycle of gradually growing demonstrations, which are often ignored by the media because they are still small, unlike the mass protests called by political parties, so they frequently go unnoticed.”

 

 Braulio Polanco - Caracas Chronicles

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