I wrote my first blog post on February 24 of this year. Today, over 300 blog posts later, I’m about to take my first break. From December 24 to January 1, I will be on vacation and will not write the daily updates with which I’ve lived for nearly a year. I will be back on January 1 with a new post to begin a new year of daily updates and occasional comment pieces.
Late December brings about a time of reflection over the year that is about to pass. I hope that the daily updates I wrote throughout 2014 helped you to gain some insight into the complicated times Venezuela and her people are living through.
2014 was a difficult year. I believe 2015 will also be a difficult year. As we enter the new year, I want to highlight some of the most important events, thoughts and developments that rocked Venezuela in 2014.
I started this blog about two weeks after the student-led protests (which started around February 8 in a university in Tachira) spread across the country. One of the defining features of the early stages of this unrest was the guarimba. The term refers to a barricade erected to block traffic. The guarimbas in Venezuela this year were fairly unsophisticated structures, often made with heaps of burning garbage, tree branches or anything else that could be found laying around:
Unlike the barricades that dotted central Kiev during the same time (which were formidable defensive structures), there was an almost ethereal quality to the guarimbas.
The effectiveness of the guarimba is a hotly debated topic among anti-government protesters. While some consider them necessary – either for defense or escalation – many Venezuelans opposed to the government were also opposed to the guarimbas. They were, after all, often dangerous and at the very least caused tremendous inconvenience for commuters.
Maduro and the PSUV attempted to equate the entire anti-government movement with the guarimbas. To Maduro, there is no opposition; there are only guarimberos. Attorney General Luisa Ortega Diaz went as far as to say in May 30 that there had been no peaceful protests in the country.
Venezuelans Also Protested in Peace
Despite the governments’ assertions to the contrary, Venezuelans took to the streets peacefully as their constitution allows. This year saw tremendous turnouts as Venezuelans from all walks of life demonstrated in their cities in peace against the government.
Maduro is a Repressive Leader
The government’s reaction to the protests proved one thing: Maduro is not afraid of showing his repressive side. The first sign that an undemocratic crackdown was in the works came on February 18, when Leopoldo Lopez was arrested on charges that he’d somehow been responsible for the deaths of protesters, and that he had incited violence. He remains in the Ramo Verde military prison outside Caracas to this day. His detention has been called arbitrary by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch, and the Socialist International.
In late March, National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello unceremoniously (and illegally) removed another outspoken opposition politician, Maria Corina Machado, from her seat at the National Assembly. Contrary to Venezuelan law, Cabello simply made a proclamation that Maria Corina was no longer a deputy, and it was so. She was charged earlier this month with conspiracy after the government claimed to have found e-mails she wrote talking about a plan to assassinate Maduro with foreign dissidents.
The Foro Penal Venezolano, an NGO that tracks detention data stemming from the protests, counts 3,408 total detentions (including 287 minors) as a result of the protests this year. To date, 63 people are still under arrest, while nearly 2,000 were released conditionally pending further proceedings. With armed soldiers patrolling the streets, 2014 was a dangerous year to be a protester in Venezuela:
The emergence of pro-government armed troops during protests was particularly interesting. These groups were documented by Amnesty International as acting violently towards peaceful protesters, often within sight of uniformed security forces. The blurring of the line between official state security officers and pro-government armed civilians also blurred the line between what is acceptable and what is not acceptable when it comes to suppressing protests:
The PSUV is Stagnant and Sick
Regardless of your political orientation, there was one undeniable fact about Hugo Chavez: he had charisma. It’s not uncommon for even opposition-leaning Venezuelans to tell you that Chavez was, at the very least, well-intentioned. The systemic class imbalance that preceded Chavez’s election was an unforgivable reality, and Chavez’s attempts at making things right were admirable.
Chavez has been dead for almost two years, but Maduro and the PSUV are hoping that you won’t realize this. The Supreme and Eternal Commander is alive and well, they’ll say, both in the work of the PSUV and in Maduro. Maduro and the PSUV leadership know that they’re not anywhere near as charismatic as Chavez was, and their only hope to maintain some kind of coherence over the chavista movement is to somehow claim to channel some form of the beloved leader.
But this isn’t the case. Chavez is dead. He is no longer alive. His memory may live on in the minds and hearts of his followers, but Maduro is not Chavez, and a sans-Chavez PSUV is a stagnant and sick creature. Nicmer Evans, an outspoken left-leaning PSUV critic, has argued that one of Chavez’s mistakes was that instead of tearing down the institutionalized problems that plagued Venezuelan politics prior to his arrival, he built the PSUV atop them. The result, Evans argues, is that the PSUV is actually serving to protect and perpetuate these same problems. The corruption and nepotism of old now wear red.
Maduro calls himself “el hijo de Chavez” [Chavez’s son] for a reason. Ask yourself: “Why?”.
2015 Will Be Difficult
Prophecy is a lost art. I can’t be sure what will happen, but I do know that unless the three biggest issues facing Venezuelans are fixed (inflation, scarcity, insecurity), the social unrest we saw this year might very well be back. Maduro likes to say that 2014 will be remembered as the year he defeated the guarimba, but the inherent problems that led to the guarimbas have not been fixed. Whatever peace Venezuela is enjoying now is probably temporary. The issues plaguing Venezuela a real and complex. They will not be fixed with catchphrases. They will not be fixed soon.
Whatever happens, I will be here starting January 1, 2015. Stay tuned.