What has been happening in Veneuzela this past week has be highly under-reported by the international media, while national media in VZ has been all but crushed. People have been forced to rely on Twitter and Youtube, but Twitter reported on Friday that the VZ government has now blocked the upload of pictures onto twitter, further increasing the media black-out.
Most international media outlets are only really reporting the spectacle of the protests and that 2-3 deaths have occurred, but with no in-depth details on the political and social context that lead to these protests. Beyond a cursory sentence ‘they are protesting food shortages and crime’ not much else is being said. I would love to link to at least one article that does a more objective job describing the situation, but I can’t find one, so I’m cobbling together a few reports here.
The political motivations, and the way in which the opposition is using the protests against the existing government is very complex.
However the main motivation behind these protests is food/product shortages for very basic things like flour, milk and toilet paper. People may wait weeks to attain such things, or wait hours in line after searching multiple grocery stores. Such a situation has been enabled by the fact that the country also has the highest inflation rate in the region at 56.2% in 2013, according to official figures. Venezuela’s price controls require staple goods be sold at fixed rates that are at times below production cost, which often leaves them scarce because of the reduced incentive for companies to make or import them. Additionally, such shortages have continually been used to further political interests, putting every day people in the middle.
I think there is two reasons, one economic and one political …. On the economic side, it was well known that there was a devaluation right after the elections and at the same time there was a process of getting rid of one of the exchange mechanisms …. The other factor is more political, there has been a tradition or history of shortages around the elections time, there are some politically motivated importers who want the government to look bad and therefore slowdown the process of imports.”
- Greory Wilpert, an editor of venezuelaanalysis.com
Such shortages even extended to a newsprint, a crisis that caused nine regional newspapers to closed in Venezuela since 2013, according to the local journalism watchdog Public Space.
The spiralling crime problems in the country are the second main motivator for these protests. VZ holds one of the highest murder rates in the world, having more deaths per year then Iraq or other countries at war. The Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates that 24,763 killings occurred this year , pushing up the homicide rate to 79 per 100,000 inhabitants. It was 73 per 100,000 people in 2012. In 1998, the rate was 19.
Venezuela’s government has gradually blocked access to murder statistics as violent crime has worsened the past decade. The above report was compiled by researchers based on press reports, victim surveys and comments by officials.
Venezuela’s spiralling crime problem has a number of underlying causes: they include easy access to illegal weapons, a corrupt and overstretched judicial system, poorly trained and ill-equipped police, and the most violent prison system in the region. But most experts agree that sheer impunity is at the heart of it. More than 90% of murders go unpunished, and in the vast majority of cases the police make no arrests and cases languish uninvestigated.
With the seizure by the government of the free press, the demonstration and its aftermath were left largely uncovered. The only TV channel showing the protests was international channel NTN24, which was later blocked by the government. Even the press conference held by the opposition leaders, which usually would have been broadcast on every channel, was held in semi-secrecy, attended only by foreign correspondents. William Castillo, president of the Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones (National Telecommunications Comission), asked through his Twitter account to “respect the Venezuelan people.” But his plea was not answered, and Venezuelans could count only on YouTube to show what was happening in their own country.
Embedded below is the main video circulating the internet, attempting to document and describe the current situation.