Scenes in Ferguson, Mo., a familiar sight to some
In the past few weeks this nation has been filled with news regarding the August 9 shooting in Ferguson, Mo., which resulted in the death of 18-year old Michael Brown.
The protests from the African American community against the police, following this shooting have involved multiple arrests, more gun violence, the use of tear gas by officials, the use of Molotov cocktails, looting and more.
Americans in Missouri and all over the country have had a resounding reaction: “This is happening in America?”
Back in March, I wrote an article about the violence and insecurity going on in the country where most of my family resides: Venezuela. University students had started protesting against the government in February and by March CNN had already reported 31 deaths associated with the protests.
University students were being arrested, shot and killed, officials were using tear gas, civilians were using Molotov cocktails and there was looting. Sound familiar?
What has been happening in Ferguson, Mo. for the past few weeks fueled by a white officer killing one black teenager is a glimpse of what was happening for months in Venezuela, fueled by the vast majority of University students fed up with the government’s inability to keep food on supermarket shelves, and provide a secure place to live.
In June, I visited my family for ten days. By that time, the protests had stopped and everything was mostly back to its pre-protest condition. Normal, however, would not be a word to describe the state of affairs in the country.
La Guardia Nacional (The National Guard) is stationed at street corners all over the city. Dressed from head to toe in their military gear, shielded from civilians by actual shields that cover the majority of their bodies, automatic weapons and pistols secured to their person.
Across the street from these officers, if not another corner full of National Guard officers, then some other government officials or police officers pacing the sidewalk while gripping their automatic weapon, just waiting for an opportunity to put somebody in their place.
But waiting to put whom in their place? The protests are over. All around these officers are normal people going about their days. They eat lunch, talk on the phone, drive to their next destination: the normal everyday happenings in any metro area.
So, why are the guards there?
This is what Venezuela has become. With rising inflation rates – last reported at 56 percent by several news sources, including Reuters. It is the second highest in the world, only behind war-torn Syria. The country is still struggling to provide basic necessities to its people.
In the three days I was there, I saw the inside of more supermarkets than I see in one month here in the US. One supermarket had shelves full of toothpaste, while some had none. Sugar was nowhere to be found and coffee was only available in one supermarket almost an hour outside of the city. There is a limit of 2 bags per customer in place so stores don’t run out too fast.
Just last week, Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro announced that he would soon be implementing fingerprinting in all supermarkets. According to The Washington Post, it will be to limit people from purchasing too much of one product; a sort of “anti-fraud” system.
The third day of my vacation, my aunt received a phone call that elicited such an excited reaction I thought she had won the lottery, but it was simply her cousin calling to say that the butcher had finally gotten a shipment of red meat and that she should come get some now. It had been over a month since they were able to find red meat to buy. She bought enough to freeze for months.
My nine cousins ranging from the ages of five to seventeen are living in a country where they can’t just go outside to play, where they can’t just walk home from school, where once the sun starts to set, it’s rare that they leave their homes.
While I was visiting, rumors of airlines cutting back on flights were in the air. On July 7, 2014, just two weeks after I returned, the New York Times reported that Delta would reduce their daily round trip flight to just one weekend round trip. The Venezuelan government owes billions of dollars to airlines like Delta, American, AlItalia and Air Canada, who are now cutting flights drastically, leaving people with no choices.
In late July, a good friend of my cousin’s was packed and ready to leave for London on a 3-month study abroad program and his ticket was cancelled within days of his supposed departure with no alternative given and a delay in his refund.
My cousins were supposed to come visit me in August; no flights could be found.
The student-led protests that began in February have launched the country into a deeper depression. The Socialist government refuses to listen to its people.
The Venezuelan people appear to have lost their freedom long ago, but especially now with the non-existent sense of security, second highest inflation rate in the world and an inability to procure basic necessities like oil and milk, Venezuela seems to have lost its light at the end of the tunnel.