“It makes no sense! You go into a Chavista’s house and Chávez and Maduro’s faces are everywhere but you open their fridge and it is empty! Empty!” This was the passionate reaction I received from an acquaintance I was chatting with yesterday when I commented that protests in Caracas have not seemed to receive support from popular sectors in the city.
His frustration came from seemingly inexplicable support for a government under whose watch food has become both more expensive and more difficult to find.
In the past year the large majority of Venezuelans have been hit hard by the food shortages this man was referencing. Indeed, it is specifically for this reason that some hoped protests would unite the country around common concerns and cross class lines.
Nevertheless, the protests have remained largely identified with the middle and upper classes, failing to gain traction in the popular sectors. Rather than uniting Venezuela it seems more likely that protests have deepened divisions and polarization.
Why have common concerns not produced cross-class concerted action here? Just last year we saw exactly this happen with Brazil’s “Spring of Unrest.”
The ongoing unrest in Venezuela has been portrayed abroad as a conflict between Venezuelan citizens and an increasingly desperate government that has resorted to massive human rights abuses to maintain its hold on power. That depiction both oversimplifies and distorts the issues at play.
Since early February, Venezuela has been affected by a cycle of protests against the government of President Nicolás Maduro. The government and groups sympathetic to the government have responded to the protests with force. At least 20 people have died in the ensuing conflict—mainly because of violence by government agents and pro-government groups but also from the actions of the protesters—and hundreds have been arrested. While it looked like the protests would diminish last week, at this time it is not clear they will.
The Maduro government has begun a series of “peace conferences” to address some of the issues protesters have raised. However, the opposition has maintained its distance from these overtures.
In the following, I will address some common questions we have been receiving at WOLA.
What makes the current conflict so sad is that it could have easily have been avoided if minimal spaces for dialogue between opponents had been safeguarded. The crisis, it seems, is institutional.
Yep. Part of what it means to live in a democracy is to tolerate even those we think are awful people. Muzzling one’s opponents in the name of a “people’s revolution” has never ended well. In fact, it’s the surest way to encourage a counter revolution.
Besides, think how conceited someone must be to believe they (and only they and their coterie) understand the needs of the people or the true arch of history or whatever. And how awful someone must be to think their righteousness justifies using force in defense of their moral certitude.