Venezuela’s Crisis

Free the Bear

Cerveza Polar is Venezuela’s most popular beer. It is cold and refreshing, or so it seems, in a country that boasts the world’s longest Caribbean coastline, and which lies at the mercy of the Equatorial heat.

But today Venezuelans cannot enjoy the perfumed taste of their favorite beer. Fifty days–and counting–into a GENERAL STRIKE, the beer can neither reach the large supermarket chains nor the small corner stores.

Venezuela is the world’s fifth-largest oil exporter and its transportation infrastructure depends almost only on oil and its derivatives. But the country’s oil production began to decline fast after PDVSA (Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A., the state-owned oil corporation) joined the general strike, the purpose of which is to force Hugo Chavez to hold a presidential referendum on his rule as soon as possible, possibly during the first week of February. This is why you are paying such high prices at your local gas station.

A former army paratrooper, Chavez was incarcerated last decade for attempting a coup to oust the corrupt political elite that have been ruling Venezuela for as long as most Venezuelans can remember. After his release, he sought the presidency through democratic elections, which he won by a landslide. No doubt, Venezuelans wanted change; especially those who have never been given a share of the Venezuelan pie. It is a country with plenty of natural resources to provide for its twenty-five million people, but historically, and much like most other South American states, only a few have profited from the riches.

As a result of the strike, Venezuelans cannot get to work. Parents cannot send their kids to school. Families cannot do many of the things they used to do before the strike began–whether by “they” we mean the rich or the poor, or the still-existing middle-class. In short, Venezuelans cannot make use of their land to secure their individual opportunities. There’s something, or someone, in their way.

Why do Venezuelans risk development and improvement with a strike that has halved their food and freedom? It is a matter of preference. At this time, in the midst of the strike and protests that have probably introduced Venezuelans in the Guinness Book of Records–if not by their perseverance, then by the magnitude of their protests–the question remains: What is development and improvement for Venezuelans today?

About eighty percent of Venezuelans voted for Chavez, and today, about eighty percent of Venezuelans agree that improvement and development is the solution to the polarization of their society, brought by marginal rhetoric and brutality from the top. Venezuelans believe that a solution can only be attained through formal elections. That is why protesters have gathered the two million signatures that according to the constitution are needed to ask the government to hold a referendum on the president’s rule.

So far one of Chavez’ tactics to hold on to power has been through the polarization of the population; the motto: divide and rule. Is there anything wrong in making the poor aware that they are poor and others are not, and that they do not need to accept a reality of poverty? No. Education can never hurt. But politics is dirty. Chavez wants to strip the Venezuelan elites of their power, but he believes he must do so by consolidating his own through violence. At the height–not climax–of an “authoritarian presidency” power cannot be shared. With that in mind, several peaceful opposition protests have ended in deaths. Opponents of the government have been killed by the government, and it seems clear that as Chavez is gradually seen to lose power and legitimacy while more people join the opposition, he has been seeking to consolidate his mandate through yet more violence and fear.

Throughout his presidency, he has made use of “Bolivarian Circles” to protect his personal vision of a revolutionary “Bolivarian Venezuela”. These ultra-nationalist circles, contextually perhaps no different from Mao’s Red Guards or Hitler’s SS in their raison d’

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