Translation: Nina Rancel.
On the streets of Caracas, you hear it again and again: “this is gonna blow.”
Del dicho al hecho, un solo trecho, since shortages and the high prices of food on these first six days of 2018 have done some damage to worker’s pockets and caused rioting and saqueos in several regions of the country. Events that, if it weren’t for social media and coverage from independent media outlets, would be completely ignored or dismissed. The topic is not discussed in mainstream or official media nor in Maduro´s government cabinet.
A country up in flames
Protests in Venezuela have been constant. 2017 saw high levels of social and political conflict: from April to July, there were 4,182 protests, 42 per day, let’s not even discuss that 157 people were murdered by the savage repression from the government; when the Plan Zamora was activated, a security mechanism to defeat the alleged coup d’état.
Dozens of people have been taken into custody and one pregnant woman was shot dead.
And even though people eventually came to fear the National Guard, it was hunger that rekindled the protests. December ended with action on the streets and January 2018 has been following that trend. Because they want food, people in Bolívar, Zulia, Valencia, Aragua, Miranda, Trujillo, Monagas and Distrito Capital have taken to the streets and looted over 30 businesses that sell food and clothing (20 of those just in Bolívar state). Dozens of people have been taken into custody and one pregnant woman was shot dead.
Overcoming the news blackout
As a way to break the information barrier, the news have flooded with photos and videos every group chat in Whatsapp and social media. Amid increasingly stringent censorship over traditional broadcast outlets, this kind of peer-to-peer news sharing has become pivotal Venezuela.
If this kind of news is covered on an independent TV station, the words “loots” and “riots” are replaced by the time-worn euphemism: “situación irregular”.
Mainstream media has gone silent, under pressure from the so-called Law Against Hatred, passed last November, and whose sole goal is to criminalize critical expression and to snuff out the right to peaceful protest. If this kind of news is covered on an independent TV station, the words “loots” and “riots” are replaced by the time-worn euphemism: “situación irregular”. Spots, when they are aired, seldom last more than a few seconds.
That’s why the average citizen thinks twice about taking to the streets. What we’re witnessing is the spontaneous complaint of many people who are hungry, who can’t get cash, who can’t even buy from the bachaquero, who can’t fill up a tank of gas and who can’t find transportation to their homes, elements that are part of the socio-economic crisis and began 15 years ago with the foreign currency control regime that Chávez imposed.
And while looting attempts spread all through Caracas, representatives of the Superintendencia Nacional para la Defensa de los Derechos Socioeconómicos, Sundee, visited on January 5th several supermarket chains and forced them to lower their prices by 50%.
It’s a way of legally looting, part of the government’s bid for control over people through food.
People started queuing up overnight, to be able to grab what they could afford on Saturday, 6th. It’s a way of legally looting, part of the government’s bid for control over people through food, even if it means bankrupting private companies and hobble domestic production.
For the government, the social and humanitarian crises don’t exist. In a mandatory cadena address, Maduro offered a Bs. 500,000 bonus ($6.65) to 8 million people with carnets de la patria, a sum that’s now good for one kilo of cheese and one kilo of beef.
But on the streets of Venezuela, a social explosion is in the air. “Hunger doesn’t wait,” I overheard someone standing in line to buy eggs say. The famous old slogan “con hambre y sin empleo con Chávez me resteo,” looks like a distant memory now.