Guest column: Don’t forget the Venezuelan issue

Valentina Peralta

If you haven’t been paying attention to social media, you may have missed recent news reports of protests currently taking place in Venezuela, a country mostly known for its late so-called socialist president, Hugo Chávez, a man who used to antagonize America and its government whenever he had a chance.

But what is happening in Venezuela today? First, its important to know Venezuela has been under the same political regime for 15 years now. Hugo Chávez started his presidency in 1999 and stayed in office until his death in 2013, when his hand-picked successor, Nicolás Maduro, won the elections  — even though the transparency of the process was highly questioned at the time.

Since then, the harsh living conditions that had been affecting Venezuelans since the Chávez period only became more pronounced. Today, the country struggles with an inflation rate of 56% (one of the highest in the world); shortages of basic products like toilet paper, milk and flour; media censorship and a soaring criminality rate that ended the lives of 24,000 people just in 2013. To put it bluntly, someone is killed every 21 minutes in Venezuela.

The crime rates and the lack of safety in universities and institutions of higher education were the main reasons why students first began protesting in early February, but it was not until Feb. 12 when young people across the nation took to the streets with the intention of peacefully protesting during the celebration of the National Youth Day; some of them clamored for President Maduro’s resignation, some of them just wanted to make their voices heard.

However, the movement turned sour when one pro-government loyalist and two student demonstrators and were killed during confrontations involving the protesters, armed pro-government groups and the police force. Since then, thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets every day to continue expressing their dissatisfaction.

The government has responded through force – a Google search will lead you to hundreds of videos and pictures showing multiple violations of human rights: dead students, crowds being assaulted with tear gas, civilians being beaten by armed men.

Just on the night of Feb. 19, the National Guard terrorized the main cities, raiding and shooting towards residential buildings as a warning for the protesters. As of now, 11 people have died and thousands have been unlawfully detained and protests have not stopped.

Maduro’s government was quick to point fingers at the U.S., then arrest an important opposition leader and call the protesters fascists and oligarchs. However, the truth is, these young people are not some rich extremists trying to destabilize a rightful regime; they are my classmates, my friends and my relatives, fighting for basic human dignity because they are tired of fearing for their lives on a daily basis, with a government that does not care enough to guarantee their safety.

And they all need a voice, because the national media censorship won’t give it to them.

Contact Valentina Peralta at [email protected].