Chaos in Venezuela

BY GABI ROSELL—Since early February, the streets of Venezuela have been full of riots.[1] Although the largest in recent times, the February protests in Venezuela were hardly the first the country has seen. For fourteen years, President Hugo Chávez led Venezuela under a socialist regime.[2] During his presidency, power in the executive branch accumulated, human rights eroded, and government intimidation, censorship, and prosecution of its critics increased.[3] Following the death of Chávez in March of 2013, President Nicolás Maduro, a longtime pupil of Chávez and advocate of socialism, entered into office after narrowly beating his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski.[4] Thereafter, controversy over Maduro’s election ensued, resulting in demonstrations, injuries, and deaths.[5] Despite the passing of time, tensions remained and peaked once again in February of 2014 as demonstrators came out in full force.[6]

Demonstrators continue to march through Venezuela’s cities clamoring for basic goods and an end to the government’s socialist regime.[7] Discontent with the country’s rampant crime, high inflation, and exclusion from policy making, students, politicians, and citizens alike have come together in demonstration against President Maduro.[8] At the helm of government opposition is Mr. Leopoldo López, whose Voluntad Popular party organized the protests.[9] Since the demonstrations first began, Mr. López has been taken into custody on charges of terrorism and murder, which were later dropped and replaced with counts of arson and conspiracy.[10] Despite the government’s effort to portray Mr. López as a coup plotter and inciter of violence, organizations like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch are unconvinced and have warned the Venezuelan government against silencing political opponents.[11]

As if in response to international reprimand, the Venezuelan government increased restrictions on an already heavily censored press, essentially creating a media blackout.[12] Even Globovisión, the only major channel that remained critical of the government during the Chávez era, was sold to government supporters the month President Maduro took office.[13] The government’s desire to keep its current state of affairs hidden from the world is further evidenced by its expulsion of three U.S. diplomats and accusations of conspiracy directed towards the United States.[14] In an effort to expose its government, Venezuelans have turned to mediums like Facebook and Twitter to report to the outside world of the horrors occurring within their borders.[15]

Despite the fact that Venezuelan coverage of the protests is virtually nonexistent, the world has learned that since the protests began, at least 21 people have died and 1,322 individuals have been arrested.[16] Among the fatality count is Bassil DaCosta, a student who was shot in the head during an opposition demonstration against President Maduro.[17] Another victim is Genesis Carmona, a local beauty queen and college student who died from a fatal gun shot wound inflicted by unknown gunmen riding on motorcycles while opening fire on protestors.[18] Even bystanders are among the victims of the unchecked violence in Venezuela as manifested by the story of Danny Vargas, who was not a protestor but was confused for one by a man who would later stab him to death.[19] Amazingly, despite the risk of injury and death, the citizens of Venezuela continue to fight and because of their decision to persevere, hope remains.

[1] Faith Karimi & Catherine E. Shoichet, Venezuela: What’s the crisis about?, CNN 1 (Feb. 21, 2014, 2:59 AM),

[2] Id. at 3.

[3] World Report 2014: Venezuela, Human Rights Watch 1,

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Karimi & Shoichet, supra note 1, at 1.

[7] William Neuman, Prominent Opposition Leader in Venezuela Is Blamed for Unrest, N.Y. Times 2 (Feb. 13, 2014),

[8] Id.

[9] Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez, Nice Try, Venezuela, But Your Censorship Backfired, FP 2 (Feb. 20, 2014 12:31 PM),

[10] Karimi & Shoichet, supra note 1, at 2.

[11] Id.

[12] Lansberg-Rodriguez, supra note 9, at 1.

[13] World Report 2014: Venezuela, supra note 3, at 3.

[14] Karimi & Shoichet, supra note 1, at 2.

[15] Lansberg-Rodriguez, supra note 9, at 3.

[16] William Neuman, U.N. Voices Concern Over Reports of Excessive Force in Venezuela, N.Y. Times 2 (Mar. 6, 2014),

[17] Venezuela Gripped By Weeks of Anti-Government Protest, Atlantic (Feb. 27, 2014),

[18] Id.

[19] William Neuman, Venezuela Is Divided Even on Its Death Toll, N.Y. Times 1 (Feb. 23, 2014),

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