After weeks of student protests, tensions in Venezuela escalated last week as massive demonstrations in Caracas turned violent. Riot police cracked down on peaceful protesters calling for an end to widespread government corruption, rampant crime, and the skyrocketing cost of living. At least three people have been killed and many more injured.
As is always the case, these uprising are the result of years of bad government, as Mashable’s Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai explains:
Crime has hobbled the economy, which was already struggling since Chavez became President. Through the years, the former leader imposed socialist, anti-private sector policies that nationalized most of the economy. The reforms slowed down business and scared off external investments.
In the last few months, the situation has worsened. Serious food shortages have plagued the country for a year. Venezuela’s currency exchange rate with the U.S. dollar has dropped from 8 to 1 at the time of Chavez’s death, to its current rate of 87 to 1. Rating agencies have downgraded government bonds to “junk,” and inflation is up to almost 60%, according to Bloomberg.
Venezuela has been heralded by some as a glorified socialist experiment since Chavez took power in 1999, as James Bloodworth points out in The Independent; but liberals enamored with socialism have to stop defending Venezuela’s repressive government which labels demonstrating university students and opposition leaders as “terrorists”:
The response by the authorities to the protests has merely highlighted once again the government’s unwillingness to tolerate dissent. Leopoldo Lopez, a former mayor and one of the protest organisers, has had an arrest warrant issued against him and videos have emerged of students being pistol whipped and kicked by armed policeman. As if taking its cue straight from the Soviet playbook, the government has blamed a “fascist upsurge” for the violence and “saboteurs” for the disintegration of the economy.
There have demonstrations in support of the government. But that should be expected considering that the government controls the media and has even censored Twitter–one of the few outlets of freedom of information available to Venezuelans.
How hard of a concept is it to grasp that people do not want to be ruled by a repressive regime? From Syria to Ukraine, totalitarian governments are being forced to confront the universal desire for freedom.
Image credit: andresAzp/Flickr