Political unrest has led to dire straits in South America
By: Lauren Selfridge
Grocery stores with limited food. Providing proof of citizenship to purchase diapers. Roads blocked off by protesters. Citizens restricting other citizens from voting and threatening neighbors with murder. This is life in Venezuela.
Political divisions have been a major problem in Venezuela for decades. Ever since the reign of Hugo Chavez, Venezuelans have been suffering from a socioeconomic crisis that has turned into a humanitarian catastrophe.
The current leader of Venezuela is Nicolás Maduro. He has held the position of power since 2013; however, violence in Venezuela has been a problem since before Maduro’s reign. Under the administration of Hugo Chavez—Maduro’s predecessor—large scale economic problems began and people started distrusting their government. Chavez made his way into Venezuelan politics during the late 20th century, when protesters started to disappear, according to Ines Rojas, a visiting Spanish professor at Drake University.
According to CNN’s Rafael Romo and Marilia Brocchetto, the main argument regarding the instability in Venezuela is the disagreement between people who support Maduro and the opposition. Throughout various communities in Venezuela, members of the opposition set up barricades that prevented people from using major roads. These areas became unsafe as people who tried to pass through the barricades were threatened by members of the opposition.
“In my home city, three people were killed on voting day [and] two schools were burned down,” said Rojas.
Carly Luque, a Chicagoan who has relatives still living in Venezuela, constantly worries about her family’s health and safety. Recently, she said her aunt and uncle extended their visit to the United States by two months because they feared that protests and violence would still be happening from the results of the most recent election in July.
In addition to facing violence when trying to vote, Venezuelans also have limited access to food and water. Luque said that her family members often wait for six or seven hours at grocery stores for basic items. Grocery stores also have to increase the prices of their items because of inflation from the economy and the large stealing problem in Venezuela. Because the unemployment rate is high and jobs do not pay well, many families rely on stealing from grocery stores and other Venezuelans in order to survive. It is not uncommon for people to break into their neighbor’s homes and steal everything, from clothes to kitchen appliances.
“People are basically just starving to death,” Luque said. “The lines are really long and people can’t afford anything. That’s why it’s really truly now survival of the fittest because people are killing each other.”
Rojas lives in Venezuela when she’s not teaching Latin American Studies and Spanish courses at Drake. In the months since the election, Rojas was not able to visit her mother in the southern part of the city because of protests and barricades put up by protesters. She and her children had to take a longer route past the city to ensure that they could get to Rojas’s mother safely.
“Venezuela is hard to describe because it has many layers,” Rojas said.
Some of these layers include the ambivalence of the Venezuelan Constitution in some of its clauses. For example—prior to August 2017—the government had very opaque policies on intervening in protests. In most instances, protests between people who supported the government and the opposition only got more violent when the police and national guard got involved.
“If something like that happened [in the United States], the government would have to intervene,” Rojas said. “In Venezuela, the government can’t necessarily help.”
Even through the various social, economic and political turmoil, Rojas and Luque agree that people will do whatever they can to try to make ends meet and not let politics influence their lifestyles. Rojas believes that the results of the election could provide hope for Venezuela. Since August 1, there have been fewer violent crimes throughout the country, leaving hope that the situation in Venezuela will continue to get better as political crossfire starts to die down.