After enduring 15 years of Chavism, it’s not easy to be a Venezuelan. We live in fear inside and outside our country. Every time the phone rings at an unearthly hour, we think someone we love has been shot, another victim fallen to the rampant and senseless violence that has our country in its grips. I was born and raised in Venezuela but now I live in Buenos Aires, and reading the Venezuelan media is plain masochism. Most of the stories range from sad to downright tragic. Family and childhood friends have experienced an exodus of sorts – and find themselves scattered all over the globe because life in their own country has suddenly turned difficult and dangerous.
If they want a better future, they are forced to migrate. The alternative if they choose to stay in Venezuela is risking their lives protesting just for a glimpse of a future.
Venezuelan society continues to be torn apart at an alarmingly fast pace as the result of a series of policies that efficiently destroyed the economy, sovereignty and security of an once rich nation. Preposterous control exchange legislation, persecution and ultimately expropriation within the private sector, impunity regarding corruption, narcotics trafficking and the creation of paramilitary groups armed and supported by the government are some of these disastrous policies. And of course, let’s not forget the instigation of hatred among social classes which has been Chavism’s signature move since the very beginning. However, no matter what your ideology or political allegiances are, nothing can justify the violent oppression and murder of protesters who disagree with the government of Nicolás Maduro. 18 people have been killed thus far, and there are 970 detainees and over 260 others have been injured.
Venezuelan students have been seized by the National Guard and the police. These innocent young people are being beaten, tortured, sexually assaulted and terrified. There have been plenty of violent crimes reported since these protests started, but sadly, the institutions set up by Hugo Chávez don’t traditionally investigate crimes against demonstrators.
I could post gruesome images of Geraldine Moreno, a student who was watching the protests when she was shot in the face, allegedly by officials of the Bolivarian National Guard, but the truth is, they are the kind of images that will give you nightmares, but won’t solve a thing. There are far too many Venezuelans from the progressive left who adopt an “ends justify the means” attitude, implying that if necessary, violence is justified if it means preserving Maduro’s administration. These same people would be up in arms if the administration being defended was not aligned with their political ideology.
If Chile’s Sebastián Piñera decided to come out against students with full force tomorrow, we would be witnessing massive demonstrations on the streets of Buenos Aires as a symbol of the unwavering support of the Argentine left for the brave, patriotic youngsters risking their lives to fight “the establishment.”
In this war between the right and left in South America, the two opposing poles of ideology are completely irreconcilable. I say ideology instead of policy because so many of the government’s promises are, in the end, appealing but empty words used to garner the support of the pueblo, and nothing more.
In recent years, those of us who have lived in Venezuela have seen our country slowly become Cuba’s adopted child. There is widespread evidence of Cuban agents collaborating and taking part in so many levels of the Venezuelan military and civilian institutions that if it weren’t for the fact that the government invited them in, we could easily consider it an invasion, or at least a violation of Venezuelan sovereignty. The social development programs that Chavez implemented, and which kept his administration in power, were all modeled after those of Castro’s Cuba. Venezuela gives Cuba thousands of barrels of crude oil per day, and Cuba, in return sends Cuban paramedics, military attaches and sportsmen to mold young Venezuelans in the poorer sectors of the population into proud examples of this growing Left in emerging South American nations. Chávez went as far as to treat his illness in Havana, instead of staying in his own country.
Time after time, I hear people gush about Cuba as a beacon of freedom and perfection while supporting a single-party state.
Time after time, left-wing Venezuelans complain about their suspicion that the United States is lurking behind every move that the Venezuelan opposition makes. They condemn and denounce any sort of American influence in Venezuela because it violates the sovereignty of our people and our democratic will, and yet they remain silent when Cuba exercises an influence much greater than the United States’. But it’s okay, they are the good guys. Remember?
Time after time, I hear about how Maduro’s government is absolutely legitimate, while his defenders – again, defenders of democracy – conveniently choose to ignore the endless accusations of fraud that were registered during the presidential elections last year.
Political expert Eric Ekvall has posited the many instances of electoral fraud that took place during past elections in Venezuela through evidence like this video in 2012, yet his findings were never investigated properly by the government. Fortunately for him, many of us have stopped trusting election results for quite some time now.
Leopoldo López is, today, the opposition leader that students – and those of us who disapprove of Maduro’s regime – refuse to abandon. Former mayor of Chacao Municipality, economist and politician, López has always been a natural leader. He has the academic and practical preparation to run a country in ruins; he is charismatic and brave, and he understands and conveys the feelings of millions of frustrated citizens.
Hugo Chávez was well aware of this, and in 2006, he disqualified López from public office for six years. A unanimous decision from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in favor of López in 2010, urging the government to allow him to run for public office, was insufficient, as the Chávez administration refused to comply with the court. Of course, López has close ties with the US, as he attended Harvard University, which means he is, clearly, the bad guy. Now, I’m not naive. I know that my country has become the ultimate battleground for a Cold War-style stand-off of the kind that should have been banished after the fall of the Berlin Wall. My problem is that I have low tolerance for hypocrisy.
We Venezuelans are doing our best to spread the word about what is happening in our country. Freedom of speech is struggling in Venezuela. TV networks that broadcast content that is at odds with the Government are taken off the air. Entire states, such as Táchira, get cut off from the Internet.
On an international level, presidents around the region have either expressed their strong support for the Maduro government or observed a shameful silence. Their statements in defense of the demonstrators are so timid, that they don’t really make a difference.
A quote taken from a sign a protester carried during a protest in Caracas sums it all up: “The country which freed half of Latin America is now alone.”
But this is far from over. We will keep fighting for a change. We don’t have high hopes, that’s true. But quitting now means that all these deaths were in vain. As a Venezuelan living abroad, I do not know what the future holds for us Venezuelans. But I do know what us, Venezuelans, hold for the future:
“March swiftly to avenge the dead, to give life to the dying, to free the oppressed, and to give liberty to all.” Simón Bolívar, Cartagena’s Manifesto, December 15th, 1812.