People in Need  Human rights  Homo Homini Award  Venezuela faces an escalation of violence. There is a grave shortage of basic food and medicine; popular protests are being brutally suppressed

Venezuela faces an escalation of violence. There is a grave shortage of basic food and medicine; popular protests are being brutally suppressed

Foto: PIN Archive

Venezuela used to be the richest country in South America. Today, over 80% of the population lives beyond the poverty line. The situation got substantially worse during the rule of President Nicolás Maduro, with symptoms such as high inflation and shortages of food and medicine. The regime's decisions led to an escalation of the crisis. The opposition and others who call for bringing the regime to justice are being silenced and detained. 

On 30th July, despite large protests, President Nicolás Maduro gathered the new Constitutional Assembly, which is to replace the representatives of Venezuelan parliament voted in by the citizens of Venezuela in decision making. During its first session, the Constitutional Assembly voted to remove Luisa Ortega Díaz, one of Maduro's biggest opponents, from her office of Prosecutor General. At the beginning of August, two significant opposition leaders were also detained after being forcefully and without warning taken out of their homes, namely Leopoldo López, the leader of the political party Voluntad Popular and Angonio Ladezma, the mayor of the capital city Caracas. Both were imprisoned for political reasons in the past.

Mass anti-government protests are being broken up by force. The brutality of the security forces' attacks against protestors is intensifying. So-called colectivos – state-sponsored armed gangs – use violence against regime opponents, which remains unpunished. According to local sources, several journalists were hit by tear gas and metal pellets despite being clearly labeled as members of the press. Other journalists reported they were being threatened and their equipment has been confiscated.

Since April, more than 120 people have died in the protests, hundreds have been injured, and thousands have been detained.

The Venezuelan people have compelling reasons to go out to the streets. According to a survey conducted by the three largest universities in Caracas, last year, 82% of the people in Venezuela lived below the poverty line. The figure was 48% in 2014. GDP per capita is 40% lower than it was in 2013.

Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world. Despite of this, the country has found itself in a particularly bad economic situation, mainly due to the ongoing economic crisis being deepened by a series of ill-considered political decisions by Maduro's authoritarian regime. The cost of the standardized basket of goods (containing eggs, flour and fruits) is currently 4 times higher than the minimum monthly wage. Consumer prices grew by 800% last year. Poor access to basic food causes people to quickly lose weight; they often look for food in the bins on the streets. Neither they have enough money to purchase basic hygiene products. There is shortage of drugs necessary for people suffering from multiple sclerosis, for people that have undergone transplantations, for HIV positive persons, for breast cancer patients and many others. Another major problem is child malnutrition.

President Nicolás Maduro rejects the claims that the crisis was deepened by bad political decisions. He claims this despite of the fact that his decision to address the lack of currency by printing more money led to an extraordinary rise in inflation, which is the highest in the world today.

Moreover, the Venezuelan opposition has practically no space to influence any changes in the political situation in the country.

There are no independent institutions in today's Venezuela that would check the excesses of the executive power,“ warns Sylva Horáková, Deputy Director of Centre for Human Rights and Democracy of People in Need. „A bottom-up change is also very challenging. In the light of the worsening economic situation, calls for crisis resolution are louder than ever before. The response to the high demand of a regime change in Venezuela is an increase in authoritarianism and stronger repressions, leading to an unprecedented polarization within the country. If the problems are yet to worsen, which is to be expected in the light of rising inflation and silencing of the protestors' demands, there is a high risk of further escalation of violence.

Andrés Cañizález, a Politics expert from Andrés Bello Catholic University, wrote in one of his commentaries about Venezuela, that three images will become symbolic of the current historic events in Venezuela. First, the cruel repressions led by armed forces; second, the absence of any indication of a future redress; and third, the stubbornness of Nicolás Maduro, an obvious dictator, and his efforts to retain power no matter the cost.

The space for Venezuelan civil society activities is further narrowing. People in Need will continue to support local initiatives and organizations in this critical situation, so that these remain in the country and continue their activities even in these difficult conditions. Among others, this encompasses activists working in slums, lawyers defending imprisoned activists, and initiatives assisting old people.

Nicolás Maduro should grant space for reforms to take place and he should listen to the voices of civil society instead of silencing them, otherwise the crisis will only deepen,” says Sylva Horáková. "Working citizen initiatives that strive for a dialogue and a non-violent conflict resolution, movements that are trying to come up with a constructive solution to crises, those are the major forces against a further division within the society. Those are the initiatives that People in Need continues to support."

 

Autor: ČvT

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