24 March, 2014

violence in mother's homeland; venezuela

When I was 21, I remember receiving a phone call from my Mum to let me know some horrific news. My Venezuelan cousin, Ana Laura Rodriguez, had been murdered by the Guerilla resistance in Colombia on an environmental expedition. She and the other 8 members of her team had been shot dead by rebel forces. She was only 23 years old.

That day I found an old photograph of us on a holiday we shared on Margarita island and blue tacked it to my wall while making a promise that I would live my life to its fullest because one never knew when it can be suddenly taken away.

Now I see student-led protesters clashing with the security forces in Venezuela, the worst anti-government protests the country has seen in over a decade, and of course, I am concerned on a very personal level too.

They fight over a range of grievances that include inflation, joblessness, food shortages and high crime.

While I tread lightly on politics these days. Given now my mother's Facebook feed, once full of Deepak Chopra-esque quotes of inspiration and inner peace is now laden with stories and images of the bloody violence that paints the streets of her homeland, I felt it necessary to at least share one angle of this story.

A quote from a teenager trembling with emotion (via npr), said "the only way this can be resolved is by continuing the struggle. We can't dialogue with an assassin. You can't extend your hand to a hypocrite who says one thing but does another."

I asked my cousin, who's a paediatrician currently in Caracas to let me know her perspective of what is going on in Venezuela.

"Right now we don't have all that many products we used to have at the supermarkets, they (government) control the movement of US dollars and they are not giving them to companies to import the products or the materials to make them here, hence our economy is not sustainable - despite having the biggest oil reserve of the world - because they are directing all the incomes into their own pockets and giving it to other countries like Cuba, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, to get them as alies (aliados).

There is so much corruption.

Politically we are not ruled by the constitution anymore, they (the government) do as they please with the laws. Socially this all has affected everyone, kids are brought up with no respect or values, no morals, education has gone to a very poor level, they've messed up the education program and the autonomy of universities. The government have everything centralised in their power.

Everything is so expensive now, the costs have gone up more than 300% and keep rising, but salaries don't.

People have to queue to get essential products such as toilet paper, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, coffee, corn flour for arepas, wheat flour, medicines for chemotherapy, antibiotics and other important ones... the list goes on and on... I can't find tires for my car, or batteries for cars or watches... it's just mad!

The students are on the streets, closing them, while police and the national guard and armed government forces shoot them. You'll find a lot of that on the news and on youtube and tweeter... check cnn too.. there's a reporter called Fernando del Rincon who has been following all that's happened recently, you'll find him on tweeter too @fdelrincon."

Media coverage of the protests has been limited inside Venezuela, where the socialist government dominates the airwaves and even international media faced harassment as police smashed and confiscated cameras while images have been blocked from Twitter Venezuelan accounts.

More than 30 people have been reported killed during five weeks of clashes between protesters and security forces who are sometimes joined by motorcycle-riding civilians loyal to Maduro's socialist government. Hundreds more have been wounded and arrested. The threat of violence didn't deter tens of thousands of anti-government activists from marching peacefully in Caracas and other cities Saturday to demand an end to the use of force against dissents by what opponents have taken to calling Maduro's "dictatorship."

With both sides showing no signs of backing off, the political balance increasingly hangs on the course of the economy, which is struggling despite high prices for oil that account for more than 90 percent of Venezuela's exports. Many economists are forecasting a recession this year, with no end in sight for widespread shortages of basic goods and galloping inflation that hit 57 percent in February.

While I may not always trust the mainstream, I will listen to my family on the ground there living through what seems to be a gross misuse of power, corruption and violence with a saddening prospect for the future economy and psyche of the country.

Mum and I are doing what we can to help get family members out of the madness and welcome your support in sharing the stories to hopefully bring to light a change needed for that country and its people.

For on the ground tweets: See list of who to follow here

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