What the Hell Is Going on in Venezuela? A Guide To Understanding the Chaos in Caracas
Even if you're not Venezuelan, with the number of venezolanos in Miami soaring since Hugo Chávez took power in 1999, chances are by now you've got plenty of friends and co-workers who are from the oil-rich South American country.
via YouTube Venezuelan police arrest a protester
And for the past two weeks, all those friends and co-workers have been talking about is the student protests setting Venezuela on fire. Eight people have been reportedly killed, including a 22-year-old beauty queen. Meanwhile, Hugo Chávez's successor has expelled American ambassadors and international news stations.
This afternoon there is a rally in Doral to protest the violence in Venezuela. So before you show up screaming "¡Qué se caiga Fidel!" here is a guide to the chaos underway in Caracas.
What are the protests all about?
Most of the protesters appear to be Venezuelan college students in their teens and twenties. They are upset about a number of things, but the main concern is insecurity. Violence has plagued Venezuela since long before Chávez, but the number of homicides has soared since he took over. The country's official homicide rate (39 per 100,000) puts it in the top five in the world, and independent observers think the real rate is twice as high.
Even the government has tried to clamp down on violence recently by reigning in motorcycles riders, notorious for drive-by robberies and assassinations. Now, however, newspapers report squads of National Guardsmen on motorcycles are patrolling Caracas, "terrorizing" residents by firing rubber bullets at their buildings.
For many outsiders, the January 7 killing of soap opera star and beauty queen Monica Spear signaled that security had reached an all-time low. But Venezuelans have been dealing with rising death tolls for a decade.
The protesters' second main complaint is the country's sick economy. Despite -- or perhaps because of -- government price controls intended to help the poor, inflation hit a record 54 percent last year. Shortages of basic goods like sugar and toilet paper are now common, and apagones-- or blackouts -- remain a problem.
Valter Campanato/Agência Brasil Nicolas Maduro has struggled to live up to Chávez's legacy
What's going on?
It's hard to tell, exactly. Videos of students being kicked, punched, and allegedly shot by government forces have spread on YouTube and other websites. Perhaps the clearest evidence of a crime is this video put together by newspaper Últimas Noticias. It shows government agents opening fire on protesters armed with rocks. One student was killed.
But objective reports on the violence are few and far between. Ever since a 2002 coup against Chávez -- one tacitly backed by the U.S. and enabled by right-wing TV stations -- the government has cracked down on opposition media. Under government pressure, opposition station Globovision was sold to chavistas last year. And in the past week, the government has banned a Colombian cable station and CNN for supposedly impartial reporting.