UI students react to violent protests in Venezuela

BY MICHELLE NGO | MARCH 03, 2014 5:00 AM

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One of Venezuela’s most celebrated events is marching to a much different beat this year.

Instead of colorful parades and celebration filling the streets of Caracas, angry protesters continue weeks of antigovernment protest resulting in at least 17 deaths during the four-day Carnival holiday.

What started as a student protest calling for Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and government officials to take action against a poor economy and security crisis has turned to daily demonstrations drawing in more nonstudent protesters.

“No one is celebrating, and beaches are empty,” said Sam Schwarts, a University of Iowa junior from Venezuela. “This shows how dedicated these protesters are to this cause because they’re willing to keep protesting despite this huge holiday.”

Venezuela has one of the highest inflation rates in the world, nearly 60 percent. These high rates have lead to a dramatic devaluation of currency and a scarcity of basic goods.

In addition to economic instability, the country faces some of the highest crime rates. According to Venezuelan Violence Observatory, Venezuela has a murder rate of 39 deaths for every 100,000 people.

UI juniors Jhon Roa and Johnathan De Jesus, both, recall living in constant fear.

“During traffic jams, people on bikes will come and knock on your car window with a gun asking for your phone,” Roa said.  “I used to see it about four times a week.”

De Jesus said many crimes in Venezuela result from resentment of different classes.

“When I was a kid, I played basketball in a really ghetto place, and because I had blond hair, the people on my team would have to help defend me so other teams wouldn’t think I was somebody trying to show I had more money or someone from the U.S.,” he said.

While UI students say they make it a priority to stay informed on the protests occurring in Venezuela, most of them do not get their information from typical news stations.

“The information you get from news media is not very accurate, because they are all controlled by the government,” Schwarts said. “That’s why Maduro was trying to expel CNN reporters from coming.”

Many UI students talk to family members in Venezuela to stay up to date.

“My uncle goes to the protests because he’s one of the only people with an iPhone, so he records and shares as much as he can,” said UI senior Andres Alvarez.

Despite Maduro’s attempts to remove attention from the protests by adding two additional days to Carnival, protesters have refused to back down, making the United States and other countries question if an international intervention is needed.

“At this point, the U.S. should not intervene,” said Brian Lai, a UI political-science associate professor. “The next step for the U.S. is encouraging negotiation between the government and the opposition.”

With no end in sight, UI students hope the protests will bring change in the Venezuelan government and help bring the country back to happier days.

“Life was so good when I was there that it hurts me so much seeing how it is on the news now,” Alvarez said. “I remember it as going to the beach every weekend and going out every night, beautiful weather all day, not really having to worry about anything.”

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