Socialism continues a downward spiral in Venezuela as protesters march peacefully in an attempt to call attention to food shortages, a skyrocketing inflation rate, and a murder rate that places the country among the most violent in the world. Toss in repression of speech and assembly—increasing around the globe including in the U.S.—and you have a perfect mix for inspiring activists.
President Nicolas Maduro kicked three U.S. consular offices out of the country, shouting at a rally on Tuesday, “Yankee, go home!”
Maduro’s government has arrested the opposition leader, U.S. educated Leopoldo Lopez, charging him with arson and conspiracy, refraining from including murder and terrorism charges [CNN]. The decision could be due to widespread support protesters have garnered via social media around the world.
The opposition comprises a number of different interests, from students to businessmen in the private sector who have been blamed for food shortages that are actually caused by government policies and inefficiency. Government interests include unionized oil workers, academics, and those who benefit from the Maduro regime.
Some observers believed there would be unrest after former leader Hugo Chavez died because the ensuing election was extremely close. Maduro won by less than one percent margin.
Bloggers are the primary drivers in the media narrative, although some government-friendly advocates tell a different tale. For instance, an article at the leftwing Latin American Bureau is blatantly pro-Maduro; it was written by an academic and most in that sector ally with the government regardless of the country they live in. There is a pretense of objectivity, but overall, LAB is a Maduro supporter in my opinion.
President Barack Obama has given the conflict in Venezuela a nod, reminding the government to deal peacefully with the protesters.
Venezuela is an important trade partner with the U.S., although as with so many other countries, the U.S. imports more than we export to that country. Government figures show:
“U.S. goods and services trade with Venezuela totaled $62 billion in 2011. Exports totaled $18 billion; Imports totaled $44 billion. The U.S. goods and services trade deficit with Venezuela was $26 billion in 2011.” [and] “The U.S goods trade deficit with Venezuela was $30.9 billion in 2011, a 40.1% increase ($8.9 billion) over 2010. The U.S. goods trade deficit with Venezuela accounted for 4.2% of the overall U.S. goods trade deficit in 2011…The United States had a services trade surplus of $4.8 billion with Venezuela in 2011, up 15.5% from 2010.”
It would appear the U.S. most definitely has a vested interest in the stability of Venezuela.
Twitter is replete with news updates on the country’s situation. Among the tags and feeds to follow are: #Venezuela, @LeopoldoLopez, @ Aquí y Ahora.
PolicyMic is also following the story, reporting on Wednesday:
“For the past few months, Leopold López has led an opposition movement against President Nicolas Maduro’s government, which has been running the country into the ground. Since taking over for the deceased Hugo Chávez in April 2013, Maduro has led Venezuela to 56% inflation rate and a 50% increase in the budget deficit, prompting China to cut back on its $20 billion loan, and Moody’s and Standard & Poor to downgrade Venezuelan bonds to “junk” status. Additionally, the once-strong dollar has dropped from an 8 to 1 exchange rate relative to the U.S. dollar at Chávez’s death, to a disastrous 87 to 1. In response, Maduro has taken to blaming U.S.-backed “fascists” and the “parasitic bourgeoisie.” He has also called for more state intervention. This has only made things harder for the private sector, which has since made it nearly impossible for Venezuelans to get food and other basic material necessities.”
Protests have occurred off and on since Chavez seized power. Maduro has served less than one year, and the latest conflict suggests he will be challenged to hang onto his power amid declining conditions and quality of life in his country. Underground news reports also indicate Maduro and his supporters have resorted to violence in dealing with the protests.
(Analysis by Kay B. Day/Feb. 20, 2014)
Related at Day on the Day
Socialism fail: Tweets on Venezuela go to Rubio
Rubio a lone voice in U.S. supporting protesters in Venezuela
Consular officers expelled from Venezuela; U.S. response tepid
Related video at YouTube: What’s going on in Venezuela (Andreina Nash)