A Venezuelan S.O.S.
As Caracas, the capital of oil-rich Venezuela burns, the streets on Wilshire blvd. facing the Federal Building came alive on Saturday, Feb. 22, with tricolor flags and signs denouncing the government of Nicolas Maduro and its perceived repression of student protests.
The protesters on Wilshire were part of the #SOSVenezuela movement which uses social media tools like Facebook to organize events in support of the student protests.
California is home to a large Venezuelan immigrant community with some attending Santa Monica College. Eduardo Manuitt an SMC Political Science major, is from Caracas and attended the protest. "It's a country in crisis," said Manuitt. "There is a great culture of criminality due to corruption. Young people have curfews because of how dangerous it has become."
The current wave of discontent started when students from the middle class zones of the capital marched against the rise of crime, corruption, shortages of basic goods and other grievances and were allegedly fired on by state security forces.
"I have friends and family involved in the protests. I keep in touch through the internet and telephone," he explained. "And I went to the Wishire protest to create awareness."
The current crisis is the most serious explosion of social conflict in the country since the death of former Venezuelan president and radical leftist icon Hugo Chavez in March 2013 due to cancer. During his 14 years in power Chavez declared a Bolivarian Revolution, named after South America's version of George Washington, Simon Bolivar, and attempted to establish a socialist republic.
Manuitt described how pro-government militias have clashed with protesters since the unrest began on Feb. 12. "Chavez had formed an armed militia like they have in Cuba, they ride on motorcycles and are now being used by Maduro to intimidate those who criticize the government."
Because of the government's socialist character the current crisis has taken on the form of class warfare as the slums and barrios still support the Maduro government.
"This government survives on the rhetoric of rich vs. poor," said Manuitt, "Chavez inflamed the masses and Maduro is doing the same. What could end up happening in my opinion is either a civil war or a military intervention by uneasy generals to prevent bloodshed."
Manuitt is aware that many fellow students at SMC are unaware of what's happening down south. "Students should know about what's happening elsewhere in the world. Today's world is globalized. What happens in Venezuela affects the world because tensions there can affect the price of oil."
The situation is indeed taking on an international dimension as both Venezuela and the U.S. have expelled their respective diplomats after Maduro accused the U.S. of funding the opposition protests.
Despite the ongoing crisis, Manuitt points out that there is much to cherish in his homeland. "Venezuela is still a marvelous country," he said. "It has the best climate ever and extraordinary natural beauty in its beaches, valleys and mountains, the people are joyful and it's blessed with major oil resources. But it has one fatal problem: Its politicians."