By George Gourlay | Contributor
Neighbours gather in the streets of Venezuela’s poorest regions to bang pots and pans in protest of their government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic; a traditional South American way of expressing discontent with authority after many have been left struggling to access basic household essentials since the start of the country’s lockdown.
After a few tumultuous years of political and social unrest, Venezuela’s alleged mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic has left many families short on supplies such as food, drinking water, electricity and gas. Despite lockdown restrictions still in place across Venezuela, 17 of its 23 states have witnessed over 100 protests by citizens calling for their government to aid the situation that has affected the poorest areas of the country.
Shortages hit the nation
Shortages of fuel began back in April after the United States cut off its supply of petrol to the South American nation. Despite having the world’s largest national oil reserve, further sanctions by the US alongside the coronavirus pandemic and rising inflation have choked Venezuela’s economy, leaving many citizens vulnerable and without basic essentials needed to cope with life in lockdown, which began at the start of March.
According to the UN, four in 10 households have experienced electricity interruptions and 72% are short on gas. In September, healthcare workers reported a lack of medical supplies as they battled to contain coronavirus outbreaks which continued to ravage the nation. Venezuela has reported over 75,000 COVID cases since the start of the year, of which it claims only 21 people have died, though groups such as Human Rights Watch have claimed that the government’s figures for the total of deaths may not be credible.
Venezuela’s pleas have been answered by the Iranian Government who, while also being sanctioned by the United States, have sent three tankers carrying a collective 815,000 barrels of gasoline. It is unclear how these supplies will be mobilised by the Maduro regime. In August, four Iranian tankers were seized by the US.
The Government Responds
The response of the Venezuelan Government towards the protests has been forceful. Seemingly inspired by the use of force to counteract protest movements in other parts of the world this year, such as Belarus, Thailand and Zimbabwe. Venezuelan authorities have authorised police militias known as colectivos to arrest protesters and disband groups on the streets. There have also been reports of a limit on communications across the country as protests arise outside of the capital, Caracas.
Social unrest has been a theme of Venezuelan life over the past two years. Throughout 2019, Venezuela became synonymous with the protest movement to oust president Nicolás Maduro who was met with opposition following his second inauguration with mass demonstrations crowding the streets of Caracas in support of his opponent, Juan Guaidó.
There are differences between previous events and this current crisis; for one, the protests have moved from the capital Caracas to elsewhere in the country, including into poorer neighbourhoods that were once the stronghold of Maduro’s socialist party. The new wave of protests concern themselves less with political revolution and more with survival during this global crisis.
In spite of Maduro’s forceful response, the protests are set to continue and develop.
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