Seven Things To Know About the Venezuela Crisis
Venezuela is facing it's biggest anti-government protests in nearly a decade. What’s behind the protests? And how is the government handling them? Where are things expected to go from here?
Posted on 2/26/2014
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What is at the heart of the protests? Hardship
Venezuelan society is in dire straits. A person is murdered in Venezuela every 21 minutes. Imports and staples such as milk, flour and soap are in short supply and cost a fortune. Venezuela has runaway inflation, last year registering at 56 percent — the highest rate in Latin America.
What is the opposition demanding?
The students are demanding that Maduro resign over Venezuela's high rates of crime and inflation and shortages of staples such as milk, flour and sugar. They have also accused the president of brutal repression of protests.
Anger is rooted in deep polarization of society
One-third of the population lived in poverty when former President Hugo Chavez came to power 15 years ago. The government says that anti-poverty programs Chavez pushed through have cut the number of people in poverty in half through heavy government subsidies for food, housing, education and health care — programs paid for by oil revenues and the nationalization of some 1,000 companies. But critics say "Chavismo," the term used to describe the left-wing political ideology Chavez espoused, has left Venezuela more divided than ever.
Military's use of force has escalated tensions
San Cristobal, a city some 10 hours by car from Caracas and the capital of the western Tachira state, which borders Colombia, is almost completely shut down. Two army battalions were sent to the region to retake control, but they were met with fierce resistance from middle-class professionals, housewives and merchants who joined forces with the students. The region is a longtime opposition stronghold — 73 percent voted against Maduro in last April's election.
Who are the opposition leaders?
Henrique Capriles, 41, is one the main opposition leaders. Maduro extended an invitation to Capriles on Monday to take part in a meeting of mayors and governors, which some had hoped would open up communications between the sides — but Capriles spurned the invitation.
...Leopoldo Lopez, a 42-year-old Harvard-educated economist, led demonstrations for several weeks before surrendering himself to authorities who had ordered his arrest. "May my imprisonment serve to wake the people up," he said as he gave himself up to soldiers in Caracas in front of a huge crowd on Feb. 18.
What is the state of U.S.-Venezuelan relations?
Venezuela and the United States have been without ambassadors since 2008. And just last week, Maduro expelled three U.S. diplomats, accusing them of stirring up the protests, a claim Washington rejected as baseless. In retaliation, the State Department on Tuesday ordered three Venezuelan diplomats to leave the U.S.
What's next? Maduro may try new tactics
Maduro has blamed others for his trouble. From the start he described the protests as a U.S.-inspired coup d'etat to undermine his democratically elected rule. So far, those tactics haven't worked. In addition to saying he now wants to appoint a new ambassador to the U.S., Maduro announced that he wants to host "a national peace conference with all social, political, union and religious groups" to denounce violence while asking the parliament to form a commission to look into the protesters' grievances.
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