The people of Venezuela have shown a tremendous amount of bravery in their protests against the now former-president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro. When Maduro was elected for a second term in office on Thursday, Jan. 10, protests were organized across the country, encouraged by opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Some say the election was rigged and is therefore illegitimate. Maduro has been president since 2013 and this re-election would have meant another six years in office. Maduro has been recognized as a dictator with no legitimate power by the U.S. government, and since taking power has led the country into economic and social crisis through extreme corruption, thousands of extrajudicial killings and violent repression of citizens, and the gross mismanagement of the economy.
Resistance began soon after Maduro took the presidency, and each time it has flared up, he has fought back. He has replaced supreme court justices with his own loyalists and stripped the National Assembly of power. Then, in 2017, he created the National Constituent Assembly, a governing body that would give him the power to rewrite the constitution. This would essentially eradicate any opposition to his rule. The response from citizens has been widespread and ongoing demonstrations, which have received violent reaction from the military, with the most deadly happening last spring, when 100 people were killed in protests. Yet Venezuelans are still fighting back.
During Maduro’s time in power, data from the International Monetary Fund shows that the inflation rate has risen from 19 per cent in 2013 to over 1,000,000 per cent at the end of last year and is expected to surpass 10,000,000 per cent in 2019. Multiple news sources have reported that Venezuelan bolivars have become so worthless that most citizens turn to the black market to buy American dollars and goods. Most Venezuelans are not able to access the government set exchange rate of about 10:1 and are forced to buy dollars on the black market and that exchange rate sits at 2,560:1. The military was also given control over the food supply in 2016 and have since been buying food at their exchange rate and reselling it to Venezuelans on the black market at ridiculous prices. Over one million people have fled the country and most still there are living in poverty, unable afford to buy food, medicine, or other basic goods.
Anti-Maduro protests were organized last week on Wednesday, Jan. 23, and thousands of citizens gathered in the capital city of Caracas where Juan Guaidó was sworn in as the official interim president of Venezuela. Guaidó has been backed as the official interim president by many in the international community, including Canada and the United States. Other countries such as Russia and China have stood behind Maduro, which could cause issues for the country as it tries to move forward. It is yet to be seen how Maduro will retaliate and if he will step down. The army has been loyal supporters of Maduro, and though there have been inklings of resistance from them, they remain so at this point.
There are many possibilities for Venezuela. While we don’t know what will happen next, the revolt can serve as an example for those of us here as to what is possible when citizens are motivated. It seems so many people are uninformed and uninterested in issues going on in our own government and community. Maybe people don’t know what to do and feel powerless. But if the citizens of a country can step up and demand a new president by uniting their voices and their strength even with the threat of being killed and after years of suffering, we can at least try to care about some of the issues in our community. Clearly, we aren’t in as extreme a situation as Venezuela, but the world is becoming more and more polarized and pockets of violence and hatred are growing and popping up everywhere. There are serious issues at home that need our attention.
Most of us as students are fed up with the system, broke, and tired, but don’t seem to be motivated to do anything about it. When I read stories like this one from Venezuela, it can be tiring. It feels like the same things keep happening over and over again and there are so many horrible things going on in the world. But instead, I want to try and feel inspired. Venezuelans have been struggling to buy basic goods for the past few years and still managed to organize themselves, literally taking to the streets to demand change. Imagine what we could do if we just pushed that little bit harder; if we allowed ourselves to feel the anger and frustration about the situations we are in, slowed down for a minute to reflect on what’s truly important, and do a little bit of research. We need to step away from social media, ignore the public distraction that is a certain president of a certain country and talk to each other about what’s going on… What can we do? We can’t wait until it gets so bad that we have no other choice but to act.