WWS Reacts: Conflicts in Venezuela
In recent weeks, Venezuelans have taken to the streets in protest, resulting in gruesome clashes between protesters and police. Major social and economic issues have fueled the protests, which began as peaceful Youth Day Celebration demonstrations by students.
We sat down with Magaly Sanchez R, senior researcher from the Woodrow Wilson School's Office of Population Research and former professor at Central University of Venezuela, and asked her a few questions about the protest.
Q. What kinds of social and economic issues are the protesters raising – and why?
The biggest issues for these protesters are criminal violence and insecurity – both rampant problems in Venezuela, affecting all the social sectors of the population. The quality-of-life deterioration, insecurity and violence against university centers, along with the increasing level of kidnapping, crime and violence, has been the basis for this social protest.
To add to this enduring problem, a new level of scarcity has recently and progressively affected social reality around Venezuela. A scarcity of basic products like milk, toilet paper and medicines combined with high levels of inflation and the recent devaluation of money has accentuated the social tensions.
The Venezuelan government has been acting like a centralized authoritarian regime, and the democratic right for protest has been violated. There have been several verified acts of abuse and torture applied to students who are being detained for peacefully protesting.
Unfortunately the peaceful demonstrations were violently attacked not only be repressive forces of the state, Bolivarian National Guard and Bolivarian National Police but also by paramilitary groups, so-called "collectives" acting in agreement under the umbrella of national forces. This is an unprecedented phenomenon and a very delicate sitaution that can produce a sequence of violent and anarchist acts developed by these paramilitary groups.
Q. Have there been other violent Venezuelan protests of this nature in the past?
Yes – perhaps a list too long to enumerate. It's important to remember that, in the past, social protests or civil unrest was always controlled by the Formal Policies group, and the armed forces legitimized the state through negotiations or repression. Today, we are in the presence of another and completely different scenario that demands another explanation. Why does a regime or government that claims to be legitimate and elected by the "majority" of the population need to violently repress global and simultaneous demonstrations? Why are students still under detention? Why are students being tortured for engaging in peaceful protests?
Q. Is there a way to achieve what the protesters want – better security, an end to goods shortages and protected freedom of speech? If so, what would President Nicolas Maduro need to do?
Insecurity and violence cannot be solved by an order or discourse. It requires the government to accept that this is a serious problem with a level and dimension of social urgency. The government should be answering the requests of students and liberating the students who have been arrested for peacefully demonstrating. The government should process and answer the claims made by human rights groups regarding abuses and crimes committed against the citizens. The government should establish immediate control and disarm all collectives and paramilitary forces to control radical actors.
I am not convinced the Venezuelan government has any intentions of negotiating or solving these problems. We are continuously listening to President Maduro and other governmental officials in the world call this an intentional coup d’état promoted by imperialism and the United States. If a government doesn't have the capacity to accept social requests by the majority of a country and address social and economic instability, then we are in the presence of a characteristic authoritarian regime with no interest in listening to other and diverse claims of the society.
WWS Reacts is a series of interviews with Woodrow Wilson School experts addressing current events.