Once again the world’s media is turning its attention to the situation in Venezuela. The turmoil has been there all along, but now the world is taking notice after a bit of a hiatus. The recent arrest, or abduction depending on your political position, of Caracas mayor Antonio Ledezma has caught the eye of major news agencies around the globe. Sensational video of the actual removal of the mayor from his office, featuring heavily armed police and military shooting guns, has been broadcast repeatedly on the BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera and other international sites.
This event in Venezuela is just the latest in an ongoing period of social unrest that pits citizens against the government and vice versa. Last year protesters took to the streets and parks of cities across the nation to denounce the government of Nicolas Maduro that, through mismanagement and corruption, has made a bad situation worse. Maduro has continued the corrupt policies of his predecessor and mentor Hugo Chavez, but doesn’t have the charisma that Chavez plied.
Mayor Ledezma is a member of the opposition and has long been an outspoken critic of Maduro. The president claims Ledezma was involved in plotting a coup d’etat to overthrow the government, all with the aid and support of the USA. My casual discussions with expatriate Venezuelans usually produce the same result: no one wants to see the destabilizing and dangerous conditions brought on by outside intervention, but they fear it is the only hope for their country.
In good blogger disclosure, I admit that I actually owe a debt of gratitude to the late Chavez; my significantly better half fled her home, as have hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans, in an effort to live a normal life – unfortunately she met me and all traces of normal were erased, but that’s another story. She was seeking the little things in life like not having strict restrictions placed on your currency and ridiculously high inflation, and well-stocked grocery shelves, police who give you a ticket for blowing a stop sign instead of demanding a bribe. Other members of her family have escaped to Costa Rica and Spain, while several have remained.
For consumers of news, boredom sets in easily; no action and they yearn for something else. Last year the protests initially drew much attention as gas and bullets flew, but as days turned into weeks and months, and sexier world events occurred, the plight of Venezuela was pushed to the rear. But Maduro has solved that – muchas gracias Señor – by creating a scene that has fueled a revitalization of media interest worldwide.
One often hears of places or people being described by the expression “a terrible beauty”, well that certainly fits Venezuela. With tropical conditions, a vast influx of cash from tourism should be a given. Sadly the flow of foreign money-toting visitors is stemmed by a conception of lawlessness and danger. The country’s vast oil reserves alone could provide for all, yet many live in poverty due to corruption and mismanagement.
Chavez and Maduro have relied on electoral support from the poor by promising them better living conditions to come, but never delivering. All the while amassing huge fortunes for themselves. According to Jerry Brewer, president of Criminal Justice International Associates, Hugo Chavez’ was worth some US$2B at the time of his death. Much of that believed to have been taken from Venezuelans.
I don’t have the answer to Venezuela’s problems, I wish I did, but I know that having the conditions there exposed to the world can only help.