It wasn’t until I actually dug deep (well … used the search bar) that I really found out what was going on.
[follow id = “ericstubben”]
Last week, as I mindlessly scrolled through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from Seattle Mariners ace pitcher, Felix Hernandez. It came complete with a picture of a group of Minnesota Twins holding some signs written in Spanish and a hash tag, #PrayForVenezuela.
At that point, I figured some sort of natural disaster happened and I’d come across it in my nightly scouring of the news. But as I searched the news outlets, nothing came up. CNN, Fox News, Politico, BBC, CBC and even MSNBC had nothing about Venezuela. It wasn’t until I actually dug deep (well … used the search bar) that I really found out what was going on.
Essentially, Venezuela is undergoing smaller, but similar turmoil to what went on in Egypt during the Arab Spring. After Hugo Chavez died last year, his right-hand man, Nicolas Maduro won a hotly contested election by just 1.5 percent. Quickly, Maduro stifled rights to free speech and free press that Chavez had not already taken away. Maduro’s socialist approach ran Venezuela’s economy into the ground, taking away most free trade in an attempt to demolish the private sector.
In a country where Chavez used class and ethnic division to rise to power, there are large factions against his party, led by Maduro. This week, Maduro’s opposition began retaliation in the capital city of Caracas. Large riots and protests lined the streets, led by college-aged students who feel their future is being suppressed by Maduro’s oppressive government. The National Guard was sent to control the protests, and has killed three students so far.
After reading about the chaos, I was still shocked that I hadn’t heard about any of it outside of Twitter. It turns out, Maduro and his cabinet forced out all foreign media, blaming biased reporting against the government. CNN, the foreign outlet with the strongest presence in Venezuela, was forced to leave, leaving the rest of the world in the dark about Venezuela’s problems. We were forced to rely on Twitter, Facebook and other social media as sources of information, but that all went out the window when Maduro decided to block Twitter. Senator Marco Rubio warns that kicking out foreign media is “a precursor to even more violent and deadly tactics against innocent Venezuelans.”
It could be a long ride for citizens of Venezuela as it was for the citizens of Egypt and Libya. But hopefully, Venezuela’s turmoil comes to a close much faster, like the current situation in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s tensions have been high since last November when their president, Viktor Yanukovych, declined a European Union partnership. After tensions turned to protests and riots similar to Venezuela’s, Yanukovych yanked away rights to protest, introducing harsh new anti-protest laws. After 88 deaths in clashes during the last week, Yanukovych “resigned” after claiming there was a coup and fled the capital. As part of the resignation, the people of Ukraine will receive an early election and a new constitution.
But how does all this unrest affect us here in America? It really doesn’t, when looking at it from an economic and political standpoint. Since the rise of Chavez in Venezuela and the continued relationship between Ukraine and Russia, the United States hasn’t had many ties to either country. Yet, as far as humanitarianism goes, these conflicts are extremely relevant.
For most Americans, it’s hard to look back to our own revolution over two hundred years ago and relate that to today’s world. Americans had no representation when their laws and taxes were determined, and were punished for speaking out against English royalty. None of that is much different from Maduro’s crushing socialist regime in Venezuela or Yanukovych’s ban on protests in Ukraine.
The American revolutionaries from over two hundred years ago set up what we live like today. We live in a country where we can speak in freedom, write in freedom, and chase our dreams in freedom. At the very least, we can give awareness to the people of countries like Venezuela and Ukraine, in hopes that they’ll one day be able to live in a country as free as ours.
All too often, Americans take for granted the ample rights and freedoms we have. Ukrainians simply want a chance at a fair election, but in our own 2012 presidential election, only 54.5 percent of eligible voters took advantage of their opportunity to vote. Citizens of both Ukraine and Venezuela aren’t even able to assemble in protest without the threat of being killed. Yet our comforts in America, and especially here at Cal Poly, we rarely think about political extremisms like protesting.
As much as most political oppositions despise each other in the United States, we’ve never had mass protests threatening the power of the government. We are lucky to have presidents that don’t push the limits of humanitarian harm.
In the end, many of the protesters in both Venezuela and Ukraine want a positive final result, but care more about the process of opposition. They want to put their lack of freedom and restrained rights on display. The least we can do is set aside our dizzying apathy for a moment and recognize others around the world are struggling to gain freedoms we take for granted on an everyday basis.