Daniella and her 15 year old son, Juan Pablo, left their house on Saturday morning enthusiastic about the march. They were driving to meet up with friends on Avenida Libertador, a major highway in Caracas, Venezuela’s capital, to protest their country’s dismal state in front of the district attorney’s office. “We were going to the district attorney’s office to protest, since they are supposed to represent the people, but they and the rest of the government officials in bed with (President) Maduro are ignoring us”, she said. Though their purpose was serious, people were excited with anticipation, eager to go march and to voice their opinion. They tied flags to their shoulders to show the burden they feel for their country. They painted the national colors—yellow, blue, and red—down their faces like tears, and they gathered for themselves anything that could act as a weapon in case the military decided to attack them. Venezuela has strict gun control laws in place so it is difficult for a law abiding citizen to obtain something as simple as a hand gun, instead many grab make-shift slingshots and rocks. “You can’t help but be energized by all of the marches. People care and you can tell not just by how we’re dressed but by the echo of our chants. We’ve tried every solution for the last 15 years to get ourselves out of this dictatorship. Referendums, elections, letters, signatures, recall elections, etc. and nothing has worked. Last year, we won majority in the legislature! It was almost impossible but we protected our votes from tampering like a tigress with her cubs.”
The situation in Venezuela has gotten worse over the last two years due to food, medicine, and other necessities being scarce. Their inflation has risen so far that their daily income cannot buy them a loaf of bread with a glass of milk. Long lines reminiscent of post-WWII communist Europe are common everywhere in front of state owned stores. People often camp out the night before just to come out the next afternoon with a small bag of corn flour, or with luck, milk. People languish on the streets, unable to find food for their starving families. Hospitals are sometimes crowded, sometimes completely empty, with the only care doctors can provide being prayer for the dying man, woman, or child; for they cannot find something as simple as Ibuprofen to relieve their patients’ suffering. People are so tired of suffering that they take to the streets weekly to protest against the socialist regime.
Daniella and Juan Pablo followed the throng, marching down the highway and chanting “Liberty! Liberty!”. The tension was thick, people were furious, and the students from the high schools and colleges were jittery with emotion. They knew that they would likely be tear gassed because of the protests on the previous Thursday, but they were tired of being bullied. As they marched down the highway they saw specialized barricades set up by the military to keep the people from marching into downtown Caracas. The closer they got the more they could smell the tear gas. Suddenly, protesters were shot with hard blasts of water while being peppered by tear gas. Those below the highway who attempted to enter through the ramps were hit by canisters of gas likes rocks falling from the mountainside. It was total chaos. Daniella recalls the moment the military escalated the situation, “they didn’t cease throwing the bombs at the protestors, and after a while they ramped up their efforts and threw everything they had at us, protestor or not.” People were panicked at the sudden brutality and ran. Those who couldn’t get away fast enough ran down the banks of the river Guaire, a river choked with the waste waters of the city. While being pursued by the military, Daniella, her son, and a crowd of people fled down a side street attempting to reach a local strip mall for refuge. When they all arrived and hid inside the stores, the pursuers threw tear gas into the stores and outside the mall. They hid there, choking on gases and uncertain of their future, for perhaps 40 minutes. A group of them thought to flee again, attempting to find refuge in a safer spot. “When we ran out of there, we made our way down another side street. There were people just going about their business there. Workers, elderly people, and families were walking around when all of a sudden hundreds of thugs on motorcycles came from everywhere and herded all of us, protesters and regular citizen alike, into a circle. They maliciously threw more tear gas into the crowd. People were escaping any way they could, there was so much screaming. I wondered if this is what it is meant to experience war.”
Terrified, Daniella and Juan Pablo escaped down another street. Juan Pablo would pick up rocks and throw them at nearby para-military motorcyclists who were carrying tear gas. His rage and passion drove them forward in the protest but her instinct kept them going toward safety. A building opened their doors to them so they hid inside along with many others. The military and their thugs threw tear gas inside the buildings suffocating those inside. “They were merciless and brutal. I was sure that because of their cruelty they had to have been Cuban special forces or drug addicts. Some of these victims were just walking down the street! There was a religious group full of the elderly, priests, and children who were carrying palms for Palm Sunday and they even got gassed! When we finally got home I saw so many messages in WhatsApp and Instagram posts of people recounting their harrowing day. This happened across the nation at all the marches. Nobody was left untouched by their brutality.”
"I wonder if this is what is meant to experience war."—Venezuelan protestor Daniella #SOSVenezuela @JessicaAbudei
Venezuela has fallen deeper into chaos. For almost 17 years people have lived under the thumb of the socialist Hugo Chavez, and now following his death Chavez’s chief lieutenant Nicolas Maduro. Initially, it seemed to many in Venezuela that Chavez truly could equalize the classes and create a socialist utopia. As is typically the case, he swayed and romanced the people, and his power and control grew. Those that saw the danger of socialism fled early on. Venezuela has been steadily declining since—however things have gotten much worse for Venezuelans in the last few years. Food shortages, water and electricity rationing, and medicine shortages became common. In just the last few years all these things have been extremely difficult to find. You can line up at the local state owned store to buy your necessities from midnight the day before the store opens and still leave with just a bag of rice or diapers for the children. Those that are well connected to the government receive their goods first while the rest of the country starves or kills for food.
Marches and rallies are common, though in the past the regime’s opposition has protested peacefully. Usually people would protest throughout the country by gathering in the streets wearing flags and blocking highways. Many protest marches were called “cazerolazos”, where marchers would take their pots from home and hit them with whatever they could find to make noise and show their displeasure. There were many days that the opposition called for people to refuse to work and gather instead in the highways to march against the socialist dictatorship, bringing the economy to a halt. Those against the dictatorship grew in number but it seemed impossible to penetrate the deep walls of tyranny that had been carefully constructed around them. Miraculously, the opposition gained majority in the legislature December 2015. This was a major blow to Maduro since his regime had maintained an iron grip on most areas of government. The statist leaders seemed to double down after this loss and put further rules and sanctions on opposition leaders holding office anywhere. The socialists hold 77 liberty-seeking political prisoners so far in Venezuelan prisons, and the statists do not yet seem to be satisfied.
Last week, marches turned violent after Maduro’s dictatorship came into full swing by stripping the National Assembly of all it’s power and handing it over to the state controlled Supreme Court. They also fined the state governor of Miranda, Henrique Capriles, for accepting donations from several international embassies and are disabling him politically by not allowing him to run for office for the next 15 years. Comparing the government to a dictatorship, Capriles explained "This is repression. This is a crime. They're committing crimes and violating human rights by stepping on the rights of people. The government has staged a self-coup and what they're now doing to me is part of it." The government is now arming a para-military group known as the Collective to help squash this uprising. On the morning of April 12, the Collective made their way into the Church of Rome's Basilica Santa Teresa creating chaos and attempting to assault the cardinal. The government and newspapers, in the meantime, comepletely downplay the marches that have been nonstop since April 6 to the publication of this article. Social media, mostly WhatsApp, Instagram, and Twitter, have been vital for the people to communicate what really has been going on in their country and with their government.
The majority of Venezuelans are demanding change. Socialism has failed them, as it has throughout the world. Without the support of the Cuban military, Maduro’s government may have enough cracks in it’s support that his regime can fall, to the delight of Venezuelans everywhere. But it is not enough. The Venezuelan culture does not have the moral and philosophical groundwork to support a truly free and libertarian representative state, with protections of conscience and property for the individual, and a free market. For Venezuela to turn themselves around and once again become the jewel of South America—the “little Venice” as it’s name suggests, it must repent of it’s old ways of envy and embrace the moral understanding of Liberty, for both the individual and for the nation, that can only be found in the philosophy of the Bible.