The news from Venezuela is grim: A “fall in oil prices, soaring interest rates…have intensified an already deep-rooted recession. The country is being pauperized. It has the highest inflation in Latin America, increasing unemployment and more than 40 percent of the population lives in extreme poverty.” With economic immiseration comes political violence: Over the course of one year, “security forces killed 126 people, 46 in extra-judicial executions, and 28 when they were in police or military custody. Authoritarianism and repression are growing. Of 13,941 arbitrary detentions, 94 percent occurred during anti-crime operations mainly in poor neighborhoods.… Violent death has become a feature of Venezuelan life. On Monday mornings, the newspapers carry a grim roll call of those killed in stabbings and shootings in the city’s slums. The figure often reaches 40 or 50, mostly young, male and poor.”
There are “frequent riots,” the suspension of basic rights, and daily police raids in “poor shanty towns to root out alleged subversives. Rising street crime and violence in Caracas” is skyrocketing. Prisons are a Dantesque nightmare: “More than 30 prisoners were killed in a riot and fire at a jail in central Caracas yesterday.” Earlier, another prison riot protesting conditions led to “more than 100 inmates [being] burned or hacked to death.”
“All this,” writes one reporter—the shortages of basic goods, including medicine; dysfunctional hospitals; a spiraling murder rate; protests and riots; prison massacres, loss of basic rights; political prisoners and state repression; falling oil prices—“makes Venezuela one of the most important economic stories in the Americas at the moment.”
Why, the reporter wanted to know, aren’t the US media paying attention?
Wait. What? Not paying attention? What is she talking about? There is no shortage of reporting on Venezuela’s crisis, with pastoral pundits who preach remedies to exit same, worrying over Caracas while ignoring the ongoing coup in Brazil (which just witnessed an anti-austerity general strike that saw the estimated participation of 40 million workers). Few news consumers in the United States would know that the murder rate in Colombia is ticking up, as right-wing paramilitaries, nervous about the peace deal worked out between the FARC guerrillas and the government, target activists. According to Reuters, last year in Colombia “117 rights activists were killed compared with 105 in 2015, with many murders attributed to shadowy right-wing paramilitary groups furious that Marxist FARC guerrillas have been allowed to join society and form a political party under a historic peace deal.” Venezuela runs nonstop on cable news, topped perhaps only by Trump, Putin, Michael Flynn, and somebody named Carter Page. Writing in The New York Times, Mexico’s former foreign minister Jorge Castañeda wants to save Venezuela through diplomatic isolation but feels, alas, that a United States led by Donald Trump is in no moral position to do so.
Well, the reason the grim news from Venezuela recounted above wasn’t obsessively covered in the United States is because it was from 1996, two years before Hugo Chávez was elected president, when the country was governed by a Washington ally.