Thursday, October 31, 2013

Venezuelans Unhappy With the Heir of Chavez

By: Katie Foglia
Produced & Edited by: Sandhya Kambhampati 

  Seven months after the death of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, shortages of basic goods, electrical blackouts, inflation, corruption and high crime rates continue to plague the South American country. Venezuela is in a state of civil unrest and political turmoil, and conditions continue to worsen.
  “We’re having trouble to find some items that an average American would take for granted,” said Andres Alvarez, 47, a lawyer from Caracas. “At this very moment it’s difficult to find powdered or liquid milk on the supermarket shelves. Instant coffee simply disappeared almost two years ago… and the only trademarks you occasionally find are too expensive for our family budget.” 
  The lack of basic amenities in Venezuela is causing the quality of life to suffer.
  We are unsatisfied, disturbed, angry and hopeless with the situation in every aspect,” said Daniel Ayesta, 21, a student in Caracas.
  Now all eyes are on Chavez’s handpicked successor, President Nicolas Maduro.
President Nicolas Maduro faces scrutiny from US and Venezuela.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Venezuelans Scrutinize President Nicholas Maduro

  “Maduro is not the man of the hour,” said Daniel Duquenal, a political blogger from Caracas. “He is a puppet working for the Castro brothers in Havana, who depend desperately on Venezuela subsidies for their tyranny to survive.”
  Many Venezuelans are voicing their distress and dissatisfaction with the president.
  “He has neither the talent nor the power to lead the country,” said Eva Feld, 64, a journalist and writer from Caracas who currently lives between Venezuela and the United States.
  “Venezuelans follow Maduro because they are afraid to lose what they obtained with Chavez,” Feld said. “As long as they are receiving goods and they are taken care of by Maduro, even if he is endangering the future, they will acclaim him.”
  Maduro uses the same model of authoritarian leadership and leftist economic policies that Chavez implemented. He has also continued controversial currency controls. Many Venezuelans feel that he has neither the charisma nor the education that Chavez had to rule the country.
  Before becoming president, Maduro was a bus driver. He eventually become a trade union leader and was elected to the National Assembly in 2000. Under the rule of Chavez, he held various positions in the Venezuelan government. In 2006, he became the Foreign Minister.
President Maduro holding a picture of former President Chavez.
Photo via Wikimedia Commons 
  After the death of Chavez in March, Maduro took on the command of president and was officially elected in April. There is much controversy surrounding the legitimacy of his presidency.
  “Maduro was Chavez’s political son. He doesn’t know how to run a country. Before he [Chavez] died, he says: ‘vote Maduro,’” said Nelson Hippolyte, a Spanish language professor at Ohio University. “The country is going in a downfall.”
  Hippolyte, a Venezuelan native, worked as a journalist for El Nacional newspaper in Caracas before coming to the United States. He wrote articles that the government disliked, and as a result was followed and harassed. He left Venezuela in 1996 and has no plans to return.
  Censorship and intimidation of media is common. Critics of the government are often threatened or punished, which has sparked an increase in independent blogs.
  “I thought that Chavez was the worst thing that happened to Venezuela. I was clearly wrong,” said Julia, 28, an activist blogger from Caracas, who requested to be referenced by her screen name. She started her blog in 2007 as a testimony on the life, thoughts and feelings of a girl living in Venezuela.
   “I think my government’s views on the United States are silly, unnecessary, ridiculous and way too paranoid,” she said. “We still sell oil to the United States and we consume a lot of American culture from clothes to movies.” Julia lives in the United States with her husband.

Shaky Relations with United States

  In the past few months, Maduro has been under extra scrutiny. Many bloggers that oppose Maduro question his political decisions, especially in regards to U.S. – Venezuela relations.
  There was much speculation that the United States’ post-Chavez foreign policy would improve, but that has not been the case. Despite efforts from John Kerry, United States Secretary of State, the relation between the two countries has become increasingly strained.
  In July, Maduro said he would offer political asylum to intelligence contractor Edward Snowden. In September, power failures affected almost half of the country. People who opposed the government stated that is was due to the lack of investment in power grids, while the government suggested it was sabotage by political enemies.
  In October, Maduro expelled the top American diplomat and two other Embassy officials. Shortly after, the U.S. retaliated and expelled three Venezuelan diplomats in Washington. The United States and Venezuela have been without mutual ambassadors since 2010.
  The United States is Venezuela’s most important trading partner and oil dominates U.S. imports from Venezuela. It is one of the top four suppliers of foreign oil to the U.S., according to the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.

Mixed Views for the Future  

  “Not even the big income generated by oil is enough to sustain an economy in which the state centralizes almost all productive activities,” said Gisela Gil-Egui, 46, a professor at Fairfield University.
  Gil-Egui was born in the United States, but lived in Venezuela from age five to 27. She was a journalist for five years before returning to the United States.
  Gil-Egui noted hyperinflation, scarcity and the financial crisis as major issues currently afflicting the country.
  “However, the government explains all these problems as consequences of international conspiracies led by the U.S. and/or internal sabotage by the opposition parties,” Gil-Egui said. 
  Although Maduro and the government view the United States as an adversary, it is clear that not all Venezuelans agree.
  “Personally, I belong to the group of people who do not believe that Americans are our enemies,” said Carlos Hernandez, 58, a photojournalist from San Juan de Los Morros. “But we should not expect them to come to our aid and solve our problems democratically.”
  It seems that Venezuela’s economic prosperity is uncertain in the post-Chavez era.
  Regardless of who leads the country, the worsening political, economic and social conditions will likely force change.

  “Maduro cannot be the President to lead Venezuela out of its economic crisis. Under his tenure, things will tend to go worse,” Alvarez said. “People may overcome their resignation, social and political unrest might be on the rise and people with economical means may consider emigrating.”

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