How far back could I, or should I, go to give you a complete picture of why we, “The Venezuelans,” are stumbling through such horrifying times today?
Today, it’s #58DaysOfProtest, #SOSVenezuela. This is how we communicate: through Twitter, Zello, Instagram, Facebook and many new tv.nets that have risen due to complete a media blackout where many journalists have been expelled, detained, bruised and silenced.
In these times, more so than ever before, the international community is more than lightly aware of the brutal repression and violation of human rights that shadow our country. Now many world leaders have publicly stated their disapproval; and what’s more, those who’ve kept silent are unveiled as “the plugged ones.”
Understanding that under Article 68, the Venezuelan Constitution shelters those who exercise the right to passive protests, participating is more than a right—it is a duty. Protests have escalated and spread amongst Venezuelans all over the country, resulting in thousands of students, political leaders, congressmen, mayors and just plain civilians being incarcerated, threatened, persecuted, tortured and detained every day and every night. Unmitigated government repression for protesting peacefully; for taking pictures or filming; for taking care of the wounded; or even for just holding a banner, has been the response from the government since early this year.
Only last year Venezuela had more than 24,000 crime related deaths, 91% of which had no case opened or even originated a detention. It would seem unnecessary to explain that insecurity and violence are unbearable living conditions for all: a total state of anarchy where these unthinkable levels of impunity grant criminals an effortless path for destruction and terror.
For the first time, Venezuela has been in the front pages of many respectable journals around the world and top news in most of the international media, which now has a clearer view of what really happens in our country. Ironically enough, a much more accurate view is presented to the outside than to those who actively live the unsettling reality: #IAmYourVoiceVenezuela.
The precarious economic situation generated by the regime has spiraled out of control. Venezuela ranks as 175th in the International Economic Freedom Index, only above North Korea, Cuba and Zimbabwe. Venezuela, the country with the largest oil reserve in the world, is today importing gasoline; productivity has entirely vanished, rending the country completely dependent on imports, in turn resulting in severe shortages of basic commodities.
For those inside, the day-to-day of all Venezuelans does not need to be read or heard through any journalist. They suffer great hardship to find the most basic needs—long lines, eternal hours of waiting, leaving almost empty handed and praying for a strike of luck to get home unharmed or alive.
This is a country where the only fridges that are filled are those in the morgues.
This social movement, lead by the students, is something neither the opposition nor the government expected to endure the way it has. The first two deaths that occurred on February 12th, citizens murdered while peacefully protesting, has risen to almost forty similar deaths. And contrary to what the repressors expected—fear and passivity, every fallen one added to the list has provided yet another reason to multiply the strength, courage and resistance of the movement. The government, on the other hand, still increases the merciless repression using their armed paramilitary groups against visibly unarmed civilians.
The most creative ways of protests and resistance have blossomed; it is truly stunning how much can be done with so little when all else is lost. One banner stated, “I have lost so much that I have even lost fear.”
Inscribe this image into your mind: these young men and women, covered with handmade gas masks, Maalox on their faces, grabbing tear gas bombs to throw them out of the way of their loved ones, building barricades to defend themselves and running to hide from the government armed guards (called robocops by some). This is a picture that should only move you to a standing ovation, using your hands to clap instead of to cover your gaping mouth.
In a country where Institutions are used as tentacles; where The Constitution is interpreted and bent toward the government’s avail; the Judiciary is ordered upon; the Public Defendant, the Prosecutor General and the President of the Electoral Council are open militants of the government’s party (PSUV); the National Electoral Council is shamelessly manipulated; the National Assembly is ruled by an active member of the armed forces and the PSUV; where opposition congressmen and congresswomen are silenced while speaking; the youth today see no future and have come out to say, “We want this no more.”
With Chavez, and now his appointee, Maduro, Venezuelans have slowly and carelessly lost their sovereignty. Cubans have taken over the military, the notary’s offices, the medical system, the identification office, the schools’ texts and teachers, and, basically, the decision-making capacity of our government.
I know you won’t believe this, but in all government offices and buildings there is a Cuban flag raised right next to the Venezuelan.
It is a dreadful conclusion to openly say that the Venezuelan regime, which stands on a fictitious democratic platform of excessive elections and clumsy diplomacy, is no more than the template used in the Cuban model, perfected for 50 years already—a barbarous Dictatorship.
Today, we stand next to those brave and courageous students; we stand with them, for them, and for the good of our Venezuela.
Beatriz Olavarria is an activist and recipient of The United States Congressional Medal of Merit and The Certificate of Congressional Recognition.