Hunter Johnson, Commentary Editor
Over the last three months, and especially in the last week, the eyes of the international community have been on the chaos in Ukraine. Most people in the United States and elsewhere, however, have yet to realize that there is a similar situation developing in our own region of the world.
Venezuela, a country long at odds with the United States, is experiencing massive protests of its own. The government, under the leadership of President Nicolás Maduro, has passed measures in the last few months limiting the ability of the media to report news that might cast the government in a negative light. For good reason, many in the country viewed this as a slap in the face to free speech and the rights of the press. These measures have been passed at a time when many Venezuelans are upset about the lack of security in the country as well as shortages of numerous basic goods. With all of this coming to a head, protesters — largely students — took to the streets of Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, and elsewhere to stand against the Maduro government.
On Feb. 12, these protests turned deadly when three people — two protesters and a government supporter — were killed as a result of the unrest. Since then, eight people total, including a popular beauty queen, have been killed and 137 wounded in the violence on the streets. Maduro, who took power after then-leader Hugo Chavez’s unexpected death last year, has called the opposition leaders fascists and blamed the protests on the U.S. instead of his own government. He said, like Chavez before him, that the U.S. is trying to destabilize his government and ordered U.S. diplomats to leave the country.
In addition to arresting several opposition leaders, Maduro’s government has made it difficult for media outlets to accurately report what is happening on the streets. During some of the most violent days, few television and radio stations were reporting on the protests at all, opting instead to air light programming that was not relevant to the ongoing events. For citizens there, the most reliable source of information has been social media; even that, however, is not entirely dependable. The government has been controlling access to Twitter, and people on both sides of the conflict accuse their opponents of lying about the protests and doctoring photos.
These protests are nothing new for Venezuela; over the past decade, numerous riots occurred out of anger at the Chavez regime. What will be telling about these particular protests is how far they go and how they are brought to an end. Maduro is considered by some to be more of a dictator than Chavez was, and he has called up troops to restore order, but protesters show no signs of backing down. Although it may be a bit of a stretch, the possibility of the violence escalating to to the level of that in Ukraine, if not a full-scale revolution, is not implausible. Venezuelans have tried to overthrow the regime before; it is more than likely that they will try again at some point.
The question for Americans now is, what, if anything, should we do about it? The thing is, there’s only so much we can do at this point that does not involve direct intervention. Economic sanctions are always a possibility, but they would likely take too long to make any impact on present events, and sanctions can negatively affect both sides. The best option for the U.S. right now is to make sure that it shows solidarity with pro-liberty Venezuelans and denounces the Maduro regime. If these Venezuelans are serious about wanting a better government, the knowledge that the U.S. supports them might encourage them to fight harder for their freedom and bring things to a point where the international community will take serious action on their behalf. The Maduro regime does need to be changed, and there are things that America and the world can do to help pro-liberty Venezuelans. But for now, the fate of Venezuela rests with the Venezuelans.