Venezuela is in the news for pretty much the same reasons as that of Syria, Egypt and Ukraine: the crisis of national civil unrest. The country has been in the throes of an economic crisis for years, with causes such as an inflation rate of close to 60 percent and all kinds of shortages, including food and basic goods that would reach unheard of levels in December 2013 and January 2014. One has to wonder how this situation started in an oil-rich country. The situation is so tenuous that three airlines refuse to fly to Venezuela, saying the country owes them too much money.
With people in the streets peacefully protesting the severe conditions, what is a leader to do? Institute crackdowns. The two ingredients of demonstrations and government suppression represent a prime example of what is currently happening in several countries of the Middle East, including the serious civil unrest in Syria.
It was not long before violence broke out in several states of Venezuela, with clashes between rock-throwing students and National Guards using tear gas. That quickly escalated into Molotov cocktails and buckshot, which, in turn, escalated into the use of live ammo by government-sanctioned paramilitary gangs on motorcycles who rode through the streets shooting at anyone still outside. The results were injuries from crashes into flaming barricades and deaths from gunshot wounds. One protester died from injuries suffered when she was struck in the face by a rubber bullet.
The former government of Hugo Chavez used strong-arm tactics such as threats of violence if a political issue did not go his way. Whatever could be said about that, he never instituted crackdowns and his position, though often hated, was seen by the people as a show of strength. That, and he also kept a lid on actual repression. Those same tactics, instituted by President Nicolas Maduro (minus the repression), are being perceived by the people as coming from a position of weakness and insecurity.
Perhaps realizing the precarious nature of his position, especially in light of the imprisonment of an opposition leader who had turned himself in to face what were likely trumped-up charges, Maduro is finally calling for peace talks between himself and the opposition in an effort to defuse the growing unrest.
Venezuela’s cities in recent years have been on the dangerous side with their high crime and murder rate, but as recently as a week ago, the cities were turned into a veritable war zone, with Maduro giving no warning whatsoever of the coming crackdown. In a speech that seemed to many to be rambling, he called for the need for peace in the same breath he was praising the work of his paramilitary hoodlums.
Venezuela is in crisis, whether it began years ago with its economic downturn or weeks ago, with the rise of demonstrations. The country is headed for a full-blown civil uprising. With Maduro presenting himself as an insecure leader, Venezuela may well descend into chaos.
Editorial by Lee Birdine