I have been a daily listener/reader of DN for five years now and am greatly appreciative of your work. I have however taken issue in the past with the way reports of the political situation in Venezuela are put together. Never was this more true than yesterday.
For the first in-depth coverage of the events since the February 12 protest – a protest that left three people dead, your only guest was a foreign intellectual who isn’t even on the ground. If Venezuelans from all over the political spectrum find it hard to make out what is currently happening in the country, can we really expect someone to do so from Philadelphia? Ciccariello-Maher may be able to provide his perspective on the historical context of today’s protests but to have him as the sole voice in charge of shedding a light on recent events seems complacent.
To clarify, I am a Venezuelan citizen writing from Caracas. I am far from being a supporter of Venezuela’s mainstream opposition movement and, although I do not entirely disagree with Ciccariello-Maher’s analysis, I feel the need to point out some major flaws in his account.
To begin, Ciccariello-Maher started by identifying Leopoldo López as a member of Venezuela’s “far-right”, a great rethorical device to get DN’s liberal audience on his side from the get go. Why not begin by explaining to us all what the far-right represents in the Venezuelan context? He may find it more difficult than it is apparent. Moreover, López cannot be elected not because he represents “the upper crust of Venezuelan elites” but because he was legally prohibited from running for any office subject to popular vote until 2015. Subsequently, in 2011, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a decision declaring that López’ political rights had been violated and urged the government to reinstate them. No such action was taken.
Secondly, Ciccariello-Maher claims that the two factors that have triggered student protests – preposterously high crime rates and scarcity of goods, particularly basic food items – are only partially attributable to government failure. Regarding crime, he mentions “the infiltration of mafias” as an external cause that has exacerbated the issue. Does he really mean we should not hold the body in charge of enforcing public security accountable for the alleged infiltration of mafias?
Additionally, Ciccariello-Maher mentions currency speculation as a contributing factor to the poor state of the Venezuelan economy. Since 2003, there is in Venezuela a restriction on the free trade of currencies. Instead, a government organization (CADIVI) handles all matters related to currency exchange. Therefore, if there has been any speculation on this front, one can confidently say that it has either been allowed or overlooked by the government itself.
“Both crime and scarcity are in decline”, further claims Ciccariello-Maher. Ask anyone in Caracas, regardless of class or political inclination, and I doubt that you will find one person who will attest to crime rates going down. In what pertains to scarcity, the index calculated by the Venezuelan Central Bank reached its highest point in history in December 2013, 28 percent; since then, it went down to 26.2 this past January. The annual inflation rate for 2013 was, according to numbers issued by the same entity, of 56 percent.
Finally, in a self-congratulatory mockery, Ciccariello-Maher stated that protests were confined to “the Beverly Hills of Caracas”. If Ciccariello-Maher were up-to-date with events in Venezuela, he would know that protests started in the border state of Táchira and were led by university students after being victims of several criminal actions. It is true that later on, when politicians jumped on the protest wagon, these expanded and became largely a middle-class phenomenon. By this date however, protests have reached cities across the country and neighborhoods in Caracas such as Caricuao and La Candelaria – not precisely the most opulent neighborhoods in the city.
Some facts are undeniable, such as López’ explicit intent of bypassing constitutional mechanisms to end a president’s term in office or the US pervasive foreign policy regarding Latin America’s leftist governments in the past and that is probably also at play today. These are aspects of the state of things that definitely need to be brought up to people’s attention. Now, that doesn’t mean we can become self-righteous regarding the views we present. Particularly those of us most committed with ideals of social justice should not turn a blind eye towards the failures of progressive governments, for the consequent failure to address those issues may later on jeopardize all of their advances in that arena. Allow Venezuelans to tell their story, whichever it might be, and you will find a far more nuanced reality than that which you and Ciccariello-Maher cared to portray yesterday.