For five days straight, thousands of Venezuelans have taken to the streets to protest government corruption in the face of a dire economic crisis. The country’s tired, poor, huddled masses clashed with officers in riot gear Saturday in a desperate attempt to challenge Hugo Chavez’s despotic successor, President Nicholas Maduro.
Cries of "Liberty, Liberty!" rang through Caracas even as protesters were doused with water tanks and shot with tear gas canisters. Outgunned protesters threw rocks back at the Venezuelan National Guard as they “marched from eastern Caracas, an opposition bastion, toward downtown, where most national government facilities are located,” according to CNN.
The protests come as Maduro’s increasingly autocratic government seizes more power.
“Protesters are demanding the dismissal of all seven justices of the Venezuelan Supreme Court,” reports CNN, adding:
The court issued a ruling March 29 that outraged the government's political opposition. It ruled that all powers vested under the legislative body, the Venezuelan National Assembly, be transferred to the court itself, which is stacked with government loyalists.
The court reversed its decision three days later after a series of violent protests. The opposition said the original decision made Venezuela a dictatorship because all three branches of government would be in the hands of the socialists.
The government's decision Friday to ban popular opposition leader Henrique Capriles from doing political work for 15 years galvanized the opposition again.
Social unrest has been a long time coming. For over a year, Venezuela’s collapsing economy has left people without food or medicine. Basic commodities and goods are nowhere to be found for the country’s lower classes. With private enterprise crushed by government takeovers, the country has been left without a middle class; the dying poor must fend for themselves.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) reports that inflation is predicted to rise over 1,000% in the next year, rendering Venezuelan currency worthless.
Even the government is running out of money.
“Venezuela has $10.5 billion in foreign reserves left. Given that the country owes $7.2 billion in outstanding debt payments, it means Venezuela will run out of cash at some point, depending on the fluctuation of oil prices,” explains CNN. “Almost all (96%) of Venezuela's exports are oil products.”
The streets of Caracas are now virtually indistinguishable from the dirt roads of war-torn Mogadishu. As Venezuela’s economy goes into free fall, social unrest is bleeding over into violence. The country is now falling victim to the inevitable chaos wrought by years of Chavismo, Hugo Chavez’s 21st-century brand of socialism.
Food shortages have turned people into primal versions of themselves, scavenging for crumbs to feed their families. Military personnel can be seen throughout the country guarding food supplies outside of plain-looking supermarkets. As ravaging mobs attack grocery stores, grocers are taking preemptive measures to siphon off the small amount of produce they’ve managed to keep safe.
Desperate circumstances breed dangerously desperate people. What we’re seeing in Venezuela is history repeating itself. Utopian-minded socialism has its history written in blood. No longer a product of politicized speculation, the trend is now a devastating truism.
In Venezuela’s case, years of government price controls, hostile takeovers of private enterprises, and aggressive redistribution policies have disincentivized the production of essential commodities.
Ironically, the country’s vast oil reserves may have been its curse.
Venezuela's precipitous decline is linked to the low price of oil on the global market. Oil exports were the only thing keeping the country’s economy afloat as the government shut down all traces of successful private enterprise. On the stilts of oil money, Nicolas Maduro, and his predecessor Hugo Chavez, had ensured that Venezuela’s economy would never diversify. When the petro-dollars started drying up, the government-built welfare state had all but collapsed.
Income inequality, the singular obsession of every socialist and democratic-socialist the world over, has become profoundly exacerbated as an unintended consequence of government economic engineering. The class hierarchy in Venezuela now mirrors that of a medieval feudal society.