Coups and countercoups. Crackdowns. Economic crackups. Seven cents for a tube of toothpaste and $755 for a box of condoms. As a result of the latter, Bloomberg says, “Venezuela has one of South America’s highest rates of HIV infection” (disturbing, and, Bloomberg didn’t mention, exactly the same rate of HIV infection as in the United States). Falling oil prices. The arrest of an opposition leader. Washington plots. Human Rights Watch tweets. South America rallies.
What is going on in Venezuela? I have no idea. I’ve been too busy trying to track down the cameraman who accompanied Bill O’Reilly to El Salvador, where he didn’t report on the El Mozote massacre. So I asked a trusted panel of experts. Here’s what they say.
Above all, Miguel Tinker Salas, a professor of history at Pomona and author of The Enduring Legacy, a history of the Venezuelan oil industry, insists we have to keep perspective. Mexico, where the bodies pile high and the country is in the middle of a humanitarian crisis of staggering proportion, gets a “free pass” by the United States. Not so much Venezuela (where things might be bad but not 83,000-corpses bad).
Tinker Salas, whose timely Venezuela: What Everyone Needs to Know will be published in April, writes:
Reporting on Venezuela in the US, and depictions of the country by the Washington political establishment would lead anyone to believe that the country is once again on the verge of a precipice. The recent death of a student in Venezuela is tragic. But unlike in Mexico where impunity reigns, the policeman responsible for the student’s death was immediately arrested which didn’t stop the state department and Secretary of Kerry from issuing a rebuke [Editor’s Note: compare Venezuela’s Interior Minister Carmen Meléndez response to the killing of Kliver Roa with recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland….) In the current context, the government of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela is depicted as losing popular support and purportedly relying on repression to stay in power (again, compare with Mexico). Sensational headlines typically focus on the lack of toilet paper and condoms as a way to ridicule the country and the political leadership that was elected after Chávez’s death. In Mexico, where over 50 percent of the population lives in poverty, and millions of poor and indigenous people lack access to food, or basic services, deplorable conditions go unremarked. Millions either emigrate or become displaced, and the tens of thousands of deaths are blamed on the drug cartels, thus absolving the US ally and financed government of responsibility. Most reporting seldom acknowledges the fundamental political and social change that has occurred in Venezuela in the past fifteen years or the empowerment of millions of people. The future in Venezuela is unclear and the crisis deep, and dissatisfaction has grown, yet the government still retains support.