Caracas goes Kiev.
This week, the streets of Caracas, Maracaibo, and the rest of Venezuela’s largest cities saw large protests that ended in violence. Three people were shot dead, with dozens more wounded. Many eyewitnesses lay the blame for the violence on government-sponsored armed motorcycle gangs, similar to the ones used to suppress pro-democracy protests in Iran in 2009.So who are the protestors? They are mostly middle-class high-school and college students. They have seldom ventured into the streets, and they reject the path Venezuela is taking. Their objectives are hazy, ranging from an end to rampant crime to the resignation of the nation’s president, Nicolás Maduro.
Mostly, they are desperate. They see a dark future ahead, one in which Venezuela’s slow slide into a Cuban-style autocracy accelerates and is finally realized in its entirety. It’s not clear how long their protests will continue, but the protesters have vowed to stay on the streets. In a remarkable act of defiance, they have continued to protest throughout the country, even after Maduro supposedly “banned” all protests.
This “ban,” apparently decided on a whim and not really enforced, highlights the absurd contradictions of a government that appears to have lost both its propaganda skill and its compass.
On Friday, Maduro launched a government “program of peace and tolerance,” during which he denounced the protestors as “fascists.” Not a single member of the opposition was present. While the launch was being forcefully broadcast by all TV and radio stations in the country, the National Guard was attacking peaceful demonstrators with tear gas.
The government claims protestors want “a coup,” and that they are in turn defending “democracy,” all while forcing a Colombian news channel, NTN24, off the cable grid for providing too much coverage of the protests and the ensuing violence.
Venezuelans are accustomed to their government using Orwellian language. Indeed, this is a government that claims the scarcity and inflation caused by its own disastrous economic policies is somehow the consequence of an “economic war” engineered by the opposition. It is a government headed by a man who claims his predecessor died of cancer because his enemies—namely, the U.S.—“inoculated” him with the disease. The feeling that lunatics have taken over the insane asylum is what is driving much of the protests.
Maduro’s predecessor, the late Hugo Chávez, once claimed capitalism had killed life on Mars, but insane statements clearly did not die with him. It’s clear that the governing elites in Caracas have a shaky grip on reality—and the problem is institutional. Venezuela’s political life has become a bad reality TV show, and the country’s youth simply wants it to end.
Hollywood liberals Sean Penn, Michael Moore and Oliver Stone have paid tribute to Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who died on 5 March after a long battle with cancer, at the age of 58.
Penn, who first met Chávez in Venezuela in 2007 and attended a candlelit vigil for the stricken firebrand in Bolivia in December, bemoaned the politician’s lack of credibility in North America. “Today the people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion,” he said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter. “I lost a friend I was blessed to have. My thoughts are with the family of President Chávez and the people of Venezuela.” Penn added: “Venezuela and its revolution will endure under the proven leadership of vice president [Nicolas] Maduro.”