In this article, we shall discuss the causes of the ongoing protests in Venezuela. As of April 2017, the Venezuelan protests have escalated to their highest levels in years. We shall examine what conditions lead to the current protests in Venezuela, as well as what the government’s response to the protesters has been.
Protests in Venezuela
As of April 2017, the Venezuelan government is run by Nicolás Maduro. Beginning in 2014, Maduro’s regime have faced targeted protests by individuals in civil society frustrated with the direction that the socialist government has taken Venezuela. However, the 2014 protests died down, and it wasn’t until February of 2017, then continuing into March and April 2017 that large scale protests against the Maduro regime were renewed.
While there are a number of underlying causes of the Venezuelan protests,
“The protests began in early February in the western states of Tachira and Merida when students demanded increased security after a female student alleged she had been the victim of an attempted rape. Venezuela has the fifth highest murder rate in the world, and crime is rife in many urban centers. The students also complained about record inflation (official figures suggest yearly inflation in December 2013 stood at 56.2%) and shortages of basic food items. The protests in Tachira turned violent, triggering the arrest of several students, which in turn led to demonstrations in Caracas calling for their release. The protests in Caracas started on 12 February and turned deadly when three people were shot by gunmen following a largely peaceful march that same day. There have been many demonstrations since then, varying in size from small gatherings to large rallies” (BBC, 2017).
So, the initial protests were due to calls for more security. However, since then, they have expanded to encompass a series of political and economic issues (BBC, 2017).
What made matters worse was that Maduro did not come off as sympathetic to the protesters, and instead of a willingness and openness of hearing their demands, he labelled the group “terrorists and vandals” (CNN, 2017), as well as “fascists.”. Of the April 2017 protests, he went on to say that “”We have them all identified. They’re all identified. They will fall one by one and they will go straight to face justice” (CNN, 2017).
Furthermore, instead of recognizing the legitimacy of the protesters, Maduro went on to anger them even more by suggesting that the protests in Venezuela are nothing more than an attempt by opposition to rid him from office, and that these attempts are supported by outside actors such as the United States of America (BBC, 2017).
His response only sparked further feelings of anger on the part of the protesters.
Part of the reason for the protests also has to do with limiting the political work of opposition forces in Venezuela. For example, Venezuelans were furious at the government for banning opposition leader Henrique Capriles from political activism for 15 years (CNN, 2017).
Venezuala’s Economy and Political Protests
One of the underlying factors for the protests in the country stem from the economic conditions in Venezuela. The Venezuelan state has suffered a series of economic setbacks in recent years, culminating with reports from early March in which “data from the country’s central bank revealed Maduro’s government is running out of cash. Venezuela has $10.5 billion in foreign reserves left. Given that the country owes $7.2 billion in outstanding debt payments, it means Venezuela will run out of cash at some point, depending on the fluctuation of oil prices. Almost all (96%) of Venezuela’s exports are oil products” (CNN, 2017).
To make matters worse, not only are there are large debts and economic imbalances in Venezuela, but the socialist programs of the previous administration seems to be no longer. People are hungry, and yet, the government’s programs in Venezuela have offered no such relief to a population ever more tired of the politics of the Maduro.
Because of the high debt under the Maduro regime, there have been questions about the future of Venezuela’s economy, and also regarding the future of socialism in the country.
Protesters are not happy with the high amount of debt, and the limited opportunities that they have in front of them, and took to the streets to express their frustrations.
Future of Venezuela
Protesters demanded that Maduro step down, given what they see as an increasingly ineffective regime. Neighboring countries expressed worry about what was transpiring in Venezuela, and many of them called for immediate, fair elections to be held in the country.