Why should we care about: Political crisis brings Venezuela to brink of collapse

For+almost+a+year+now%2C+scenes+like+this+have+been+commonplace+in+cities+across+Venezuela%2C+especially+in+the+capital%2C+Caracas.+With+hundreds+of+thousands+involved%2C+these+protests+cut+through+nearly+all+social+divisions+but+especially+represented+a+disillusioned+young+people+for+whom+these+protests+have+become+the+social+movement+of+a+lifetime.

Courtesy of Ana Luisa Martinez

For almost a year now, scenes like this have been commonplace in cities across Venezuela, especially in the capital, Caracas. With hundreds of thousands involved, these protests cut through nearly all social divisions but especially represented a disillusioned young people for whom these protests have become the social movement of a lifetime.

Leah Taylor, Staff Writer

Eastern Europe, or Africa. Although most people are sympathetic to these events, we often say “it’s not my problem” and move on.  However, just across the Caribbean in Venezuela, the biggest political crisis in the Americas is currently taking place. Over the past several years, a crumbling economy and major unrest have created a situation where unpopular President Nicolás Maduro has come closer and closer to one-man rule. Hundreds of thousands of people have been protesting in the streets on a near daily basis for over a year now. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court dissolved all powers of the legislature only for it to be reinstated a few days later following massive demonstrations. Of course, the great degree of political unrest is frightening for everyone there, but it’s had a particularly strong impact on high school and college students.

To find out more about the situation, I spoke to my Venezuelan friend Ana Luisa Martinez.  Martinez is a typical 16-year-old high school student who enjoys shopping, hanging out with her friends, and horseback riding. On the surface, her life may seem like any of ours, but growing up in a country in crisis differs drastically from our lifestyle. Martinez and her friends must drive in cars with bulletproof windows in order to remain safe from the high level of crime and homicide. Often, they are surrounded by bodyguards. According to NBC, a person is murdered in Venezuela every 21 minutes.

One Thursday, she experienced this unrest firsthand as she was on the way home from a protest. There’s currently a divide between civilian protestors and the country’s armed forces.  In Venezuela, the insurgents are commonly known as “the opposition,” which deepens the conflict. The authorities have reportedly gone beyond the use of rubber pellets and tear gas and now use live ammunition and torture arrested protesters. In fact, after Martinez left her protest, authorities began throwing gas bombs and blocked the entire city even though people were still in the streets.

“The purpose of today’s protest is because Nicolás Maduro (the president) took all the power away from the Supreme Court (Asamblea Nacional)…[which] was the only thing that the opposition had to win back the country,” said Martinez.

The government keeps many political prisoners, such as Leopoldo Lopez, a leader of the opposition, who has been in jail for four years. Another leader, Henrique Capriles, was named in a capture order just that day ordering his imprisonment. He is already banned from running in Venezuela’s “elections” for 15 years, due to his growing popularity and challenge to Nicolás Maduro.

As of now, the protests have not resulted in any real change in Venezuela with Maduro ever closer to creating a totalitarian state.

“The protests are actually really helpful since the government is really scared that they’re going to be removed because we [the opposition] are more than them. They actually try to stop the protests, but they can’t they hurt a lot of people,” said Martinez. “Still, even if we do a million protests, we might not be able to take them down since they pay some people not to go.”

The political turmoil in Venezuela deeply affects students’ educations and seems to rip the innocence from their childhoods.

“Sometimes, teachers can’t get to school, so we don’t go to school. Instead of going, we stay at home and go to protests,” said Martinez. “I go [often] but some kids can’t get to school, but… I live really close to school…. [The authorities] hurt university students…. They take them to prison [and] kill them, It’s horrible, but it helps…. Many people from my school are leaving the country if they can to the US and Europe because of the situation.”

It may seem like a simple solution; if there is so much instability in Venezuela, just leave the country. However, the government actively attempts to prevent people from leaving, making it extremely difficult to escape. Because of the economic issues in the country, it is virtually impossible to have enough money in your personal possession to leave.

Living a life so drastically different from our own, it is hard to believe that this is occurring just 2,000 miles away from us. It is almost impossible to imagine that the everyday lives of teenagers can be filled with such uncertainty and fright so close to home.