In early February, students throughout Venezuela started protesting against the government. Demands for better security, protection of freedom of speech, and an end to the insufficient supply of goods have led to street protests. The issue came to the international community’s attention on Feb. 12, when three people died in a demonstration. In early January, Venezuelans voiced concerns about violence in their country after soap opera actress and former Miss Venezuela Mónica Spear and her husband were murdered in a robbery on the side of a highway after their car broke down, and their five-year-old daughter was shot in the leg. The Venezuelan people’s economic concerns, including the government’s price controls and threats to raise the six-cents-per-gallon gas price, have contributed to the unhappy sentiment towards the government.
Both opposition leaders and government officials blame each other for the unrest. Those blaming the government target Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro for the country’s security and economic problems. Some government supporters have pointed to the United States, accusing it of trying to destabilize the Venezuelan government. Three U.S. consular officials were exiled as a result of these accusations; when Maduro accused them of conspiring to overturn the government, they were given 48 hours to leave Venezuela. On Mar. 28, President Barack Obama reciprocated the action by giving First Secretary Ignacio Luis Cajal Avalos, First Secretary Victor Manuel Pisani Azpurua and Second Secretary Marcos Jose Garcia Figueredo, all Venezuelan diplomats, 48 hours to leave the U.S.
While students initiated the protests, politicians, including the former mayor of a wealthy section of Caracas and opposition leader Leonardo López, have joined the protesters. López is currently in jail, charged with arson and conspiracy. Despite his detainment, protesters continue to riot. However, the so-called “opposition” may not be as stable as its forceful street protests suggest; since it is made up of many different political groups, it may be decomposing behind the scenes.
Political protests, both pro- and anti-government, have threatened stability in Venezuela for the past decade, starting under the Presidency of the late President Hugo Chavez. In fact, Maduro has exercised many similar claims to those of Chavez, including accusing the U.S. of conspiring to overthrow the Venezuelan government.
Obama responded to Maduro’s claims in February: “Venezuela, rather than trying to distract from its own failings by making up false accusations against diplomats from the United States, the government ought to focus on addressing the legitimate grievances of the Venezuelan people.”
So far, the death toll has reached 41. Over 650 people have been injured, and over two thousand people have been detained as a result of the unrest, according to Interior Minister Miguel Rodriguez Torres.
As people die and tear gas bombs fly, the rest of the world seems to lack intensity in its focus on the atrocities. The United Kingdom’s Channel 4 News asked in late February, “Is Venezuela burning while the world watches Ukraine?” In Ukraine, a crisis involving the Crimean Peninsula emerged after the Ukrainian Revolution, which resulted in the impeachment of President Viktor Yanukovych. The conflict is mostly between Ukraine and Russia, and the United States has been defending the Ukrainian people against Russia. As a result, as news source Voxxi, which is dedicated to serving America’s Latino community, wrote in late February, Venezuela’s violent story was “missing from U.S. media coverage.”
Despite the thus far inactive international community, opposition leaders and Maduro did speak on Apr. 10. The opposition insisted that the meeting, which was attended by mediators from Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia and the Vatican, be broadcast on Venezuelan television and radio. Maduro made his purpose very clear, claiming that it was a “dialogue” and not a negotiation.
An article from The Washington Post cited Maduro saying, “I’m willing to debate all of the country’s problems…But we need to join together in condemning violence as a way to force political change.”