A decade and a half ago I lived in Caracas, Venezuela. It’s the place where I grew up and the place that’s still home to many people in my family. Exactly fifteen years ago today Venezuelans, including my dad, my sister and me, took to the streets to protest the government of Hugo Chávez Frías. It was a huge protest that ended in repression, but also in the removal of Chávez from power. Another guy took the reigns and promptly messed the whole thing up by calling for the dissolution of the other branches of government. Venezuelans went to sleep tired from protesting and maybe a little worried about the stuff this guy had said. The next day Venezuelans woke up to chavismo again: the actions of the previous day were deemed a coup and Chávez was returned to power.
Venezuelans have been waking up to chavismo for fifteen straight years since. And while chavismo used to mean anti-US rhetoric and high social spending, it increasingly means hunger and medicine shortages. The quality of life of Venezuelans has deteriorated dramatically in the years since I lived there and while the upper classes have remained resilient and protected in the face of economic adversity, the poor are having a very hard time.
Ten days ago Venezuelans started once again putting intense pressure on the government to hold elections. Like we did in 2002, they took to the streets and have vowed to stay there until the government agrees to a referendum. The protesters include people from all over: a friend’s grandmother was in the marches, but so were young people and even a baby.
When I took comprehensive exams the first question I got in the oral exam was: “what have you learned about Venezuela in the time you’ve been in this program?” At the time I had just finished four semesters of course work and I gave an academic answer about being able to place Venezuela in a broader context and being able to use social science methods to answer some of the questions about the place.
I’ve learned a lot about Venezuela. I’ve done, I think, all the right social science-y things that one should do to understand a place. I’ve asked questions and formulated guesses to theirs answers and interviewed people and collected and analyzed data. I know all this. But I also know the things that I know from living there for the first part of my life. The social science-y things I know tell me that protests are probably good and that there’s not a whole lot the OAS & company can do to help the situation there. The part of me that knows things from there because I lived there is just nervous about the whole thing because most of the people I know still live there and I want them to wake up to something better than chavismo.