The likeliest scenario is for the protests to continue growing with isolated, spontaneous looting.
By Maria Teresa Romero (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – The international community hems and haws about how to exert more effective pressure and collective sanctions on the ever more authoritarian Venezuelan regime. The democratic opposition can’t seem to unite around a common strategy to force the government back on the democratic and electoral path. Meanwhile, the regime of Nicolas Maduro, entrenched in power and corruption, dedicates itself to smothering Venezuelan civil society even further.
The extent of the government viciousness is inexplicable, given the mood of the majority of Venezuelans. This public is desperate in the face of the general situation, battered by the underworld and crime, the high cost of living and the shortages of food and medicine. At the same time, they’re disillusioned with the opposing political leadership: the MUD (Democratic Unity Roundtable) has dropped 10 points in the polls as a result of the failed dialogue facilitated by the Vatican and is now 13 points ahead of the pro-government United Socialist Party.
Venezuelans are equally disheartened about the military leadership that steals, violates human rights and ignores the constitution and the laws. Faced with all these factors, they find themselves sunk into inertia and fatalism, within a generalized state of fear and frustration.
Nevertheless, the regime continues not only repressing all demonstrations of civic protest and pursuing and jailing the principal political, student, social, union and business leaders, but also harassing common citizens in their own homes where they are increasingly confined due to a lack of work and the reigning insecurity.
The latest form of oppressing and dominating Venezuelan society has been the 1000% rise in the cost of cable TV and internet services. These had become the Venezuelans’ escape hatch from the constant, interminable linked broadcasts imposed by the government to propagandize their activities via the national radio and television networks they control.
Without a doubt it’s a new disproportionate measure on the part of CONATEL, the entity charged with supervising telecommunications in Venezuela as well as regulating the prices of subscription services for private cable networks.
In the last few years, the Venezuelan population, even those of scant resources, has managed to access the alternative television channels, be it via cable or satellite. These have allowed them to come in contact with a world that is different from the one projected on the TV channels regulated and manipulated by the government, to the point where in 2016 the penetration of pay television in Venezuela reached 70 percent. This means that seven of every ten Venezuelans were able to escape the government propaganda. This was possible because the rates for international TV were maintained at accessible levels, despite the high inflation in the country and the Bolivar’s constant depreciation, meaning that the cable companies often found themselves in a squeeze to cover costs while maintaining quality service.
But in their zeal to compel Venezuelans to listen to their politicized messages, the latest move of the government – which had already blocked certain channels that disturbed them, such as CNN, Azteca Television, and NT24 from Colombia – was to unilaterally approve increases ranging from 600% to 1000% for paid television services, beginning this month of March. As a result, a large quantity of subscribers began to cancel their service, prioritizing other vital expenses such as food. This jibes perfectly with the government’s plans for controlling the population.
It’s worth remembering that since Nicolas Maduro became president in 2013, the number of national channels under government control has gone from seven to sixteen, at the same time that the quantity of community and alternative radio stations financed by the government has also increased, thus advancing their general domination of Venezuelan society.
Regarding the Internet, according to studies of Venezuelan communications, between 2014 and 2016 CONATEL blocked more than 1600 web pages that contained political information unfavorable to the government. To this, we should add that over twenty newspapers have had to close under Maduro’s leadership due to the lack of newsprint paper, a product whose distribution is controlled by the national government.
In the face of this new barrier and the government’s suffocation of Venezuelan society, the question once more arises of whether a social explosion in the country might be possible and imminent. Clearly, conditions have existed for a while for a forceful popular explosion. This is particularly true since last December 2016, after the government closed the doors to the presidential recall that Venezuelans viewed as a peaceful and democratic escape from the crisis.
Nonetheless, without a unified opposition leadership that could serve as vanguard and organizational motor, and without any military support, there’s little likelihood of a generalized and conclusive popular eruption capable of forcing the government to change direction. The probable scenario is that the protests and isolated spontaneous looting will continue in different regions of the country, but without a lot of mass participation. That is, for a new version of the 1989 “Caracazo” that, like the previous one, would end by being smothered by the military and political forces. Meanwhile, every day the volume of Venezuelan immigrants to any part of the world increases, since as one person expressed it, “Any place is better than Venezuela.”