A question I hear come up often during discussions on the protests in Venezuela goes like this: “If these are truly legitimate protests, and if things are really as bad as the opposition says, then why are all the pictures and videos of the protests from nice areas of big cities? Why aren’t the poor protesting, too?”
The short answer is that the poor are protesting as well.
The slightly longer answer is that we in the west might have expectations of what a “poor people protest” looks like, and when we fail to see images that match those expectations, we might assume that there are no poor protesters.
We have seen images of masses that number in the thousands, tens of thousands of protesters, marching in cities like Caracas, Maracaibo Valencia, and San Cristobal. Images like these, all taken since the start of these protests:
In those pictures, did you see the poor people? Did you see the middle-class people? Did you see the upper-class people? I ask rhetorically, because my point is this: the people who have gone out to protest have legitimate grievances, particularly against insecurity, inflation and scarcity of basic necessities. These are problems that affect everyone in some way, regardless of socio-economic status.
There are lot of practical and logistical reasons why the sort of massive protests we’ve seen in the past few weeks haven’t taken place inside the barrios of Caracas and other cities. This isn’t to say that barrios haven’t had their own protests – they just haven’t been as large as the ones we’ve seen in other areas. For example, on the 24th, a demonstration took place inside Las Minas de Baruta, a barrio in Caracas. Not nearly as big as the ones in Altamira and San Cristobal, but it still counts.
I’ll leave this interview with Yeiker Guerra here, because he’ll explain this better than I can. Yeiker is a student from Petare, a large barrio in Caracas, and he’s discussing how and why the poor – himself included – are indeed protesting. This is the video with my translation below. NOTE: Throughout the clip, Yeiker refers to “las zonas populares” (the popular zones), which is the politically correct name for “barrio”.
Yeiker Guerra: I’m not going to tell you that I’m from the opposition or that I’m a Chavista. I’m at student in 3rd year in administration from Monteavila Univeristy. On top of that, I’m a Venezuelan youth. A Venezuelan youth who disgarees with a lot of the things that I’m living, because this is a country that is sinking more and more every day in poverty, insecurity, and scarcity. That’s the story of Yeiker Guerra, a student who wants to de-mystify [the notion] that the popular zones are not in the protests, and that the students from the popular zones are not involved in the protests. We are, but in a different way. A very different way than what the others are doing. We express ourselves through social media. We express ourselves through these pots you’re hearing [being banged]. We express ourselves by going to marches.
Why don’t you see marches in Petare? Catia? In those places where people want to see protests? Simply because that’s where the colectivos [armados] are present the most. We feel safer going to marches where there are more people, because we think there’ll be less chance of us being attacked.
Anchor: So when people say, for example, or when the government says, ‘The marches are in Altamira because in the barrios nothing is going on, because the people in the barrios don’t want to participate. Is that a lie?
Yeiker Guerra: It’s a complete lie. It’s illogical. It’s illogical that the barrios and the popular zones don’t get involved in this issue. Why? because the popular zones are the ones closest to the problems. Why? Because the popular zones are the one that live the closest to insecurity. When I see my friend who I used to play street ball with get killed, and the next day [I realize] that I will never see him again? Who has an answer to that? Kids who are 20-22 years old, who grew up with president Maduro and president Chavez? They [Chavez and Maduro] were the ones responsible for educating those kids. They were the ones in charge to give them opportunities to stay away from the path of violence. So what’s the government response to that? “The 4th Republic [before Chavez came to power] is at fault”.
I wasn’t born in the 4th Republic! When president Chavez came [to power], I was five years old. Only five years old. So I only know this system. What I want is an answer, an answer to my problems. An answer to the problem of us being attacked every day. Do you think it’s fair or logical for my mom to have to be friends with the cashier [at the supermarket] to know when the milk and the sugar will arrive? That you have to see the transparent bags [that other people have?] in the supermarkets to ask ‘Where did you find oil? Where did you find sugar?’ That’s what the popular zones are living. The popular zones are feeling that the most. Inflation is at 56% in 2013. And my mom, who works for minimum wage, how can she maintain my brother and me? If you make minimum wage, which is approximately 3.700 bolivares, you gotta take away from that the 56% from inflation. So it’s illogical that the popular zones aren’t in the protests. Why? Because they’re the ones who are most affected. The popular zones are the ones seeing the consequences of all the economic and social decisions made by the government of Nicolas Maduro. The world has to know this. You can’t tell us that the popular zones aren’t involving themselves in this issue. Even more so the students from the popular zones! I’m a student, and just like middle class students, I’m also attacked, because my daily [allowance?] isn’t enough, because if I want to eat two empanadas and one juice, it costs me approximately 50 bolivares, and to get back home I need to pay approximately 20 bolivares. So how much money do I need to live for one day?
As a student, I demand opportunities from president Nicolas Maduro. What did Minister Hector Rodriguez [Minister of the Poder Popular de la Juventud de Venezuela (Popular Power of the Youth)] say recently? That they [the government] didn’t want to take people out of poverty because it would make them squalid? What’s he telling me, then? To stop dreaming. But I tell the minister that I, in the barrio, have dreams, and that one day I might be a minister like him.
The poor are protesting, too. I’m not sure what we outside of the country expect a “poor people protest” to look like, but we’ve been seeing pictures of them taking place all over Venezuela for the last three weeks.
UPDATE: A demonstration took place in Catia, another barrio in Caracas, last night. Sandra Serrano, one of the protesters present, said, “We are tired of the lack of food, medicine, toilet paper and any kind of repair part for vehicles, sowing machines and appliances. Three days ago, in less than 30 minutes, there were three muggings on Ecuador Street in Catia”.