Matthew David Penn: Troubling youth protests in Venezuela; it's more about keeping wealth than democracy

April 18, 2014 

  • Matthew David Penn of Lexington holds a master's degree in history.

The situation in Venezuela is not another example of peaceful protestors taking to the streets to overthrow an oppressive regime. Many Venezuelans acknowledge the problems in their country with the economy and crime, and many are peacefully protesting the government's policies. A small minority of protesters are trying to violently overthrow the democratically-elected government.

President Nicolás Maduro — now holding public negotiations with the opposition — has protected the rights of peaceful protestors, used proportional force against violence and held security officials accountable for violations of human rights.

As of March 24, 37 people had died during these protests. Five were National Guardsmen. Twelve had been killed at or near barricades set up by protesters, and five were killed by protesters for attempting to clear the roads of obstructions. Two individuals were decapitated by barbed wire set up by protesters.

The protesters have largely targeted government agencies, organizations and infrastructure that help the poor and disadvantaged in Venezuela. Violent protesters have attacked universities, government buildings, and other public infrastructure causing over $10 billion in damages. A group of protesters reportedly poisoned the water supply of the city of Merida.

Do true democratic activists engage in this type of behavior, which harms the most vulnerable groups in society? No, of course not. True democratic activists do not kill innocent civilians or destroy public property. True democratic activists do not reject all calls for peace, mediation or dialogue.

True democratic activists are not led by past coup leaders like Maria Corina Machado and Leopoldo Lopez. The men and women committing these acts of violence and sabotage are not democratic activists.

The protesters are largely young students from wealthy families. They feel that they are losing their status and wealth because of the Bolivarian Revolution.

They feel that their future is in danger as long as the Chavistas stay in power. In reality, neither the middle class nor the wealthy is losing their status or wealth in Venezuela.

What is really happening is the poor and working classes are being enfranchised by political and economic reforms that give them the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. Poverty and economic inequality declined dramatically under the late president Hugo Chavez.

Educational reforms have given more people access to secondary and tertiary education than ever before. There are still many social and economic problems in Venezuela, but many people support the Bolivarian Revolution because these reforms have drastically improved their lives. Everyone ultimately benefits from a society where democracy is more inclusive and the economy is more equitable.

How has the international community responded? Only the United States, Canada and Panama have supported intervention in Venezuela through the Organization of American States. All other OAS members have voted for a declaration supporting the Venezuelan government, and they have pledged not to violate Venezuela's national sovereignty by intervening.

The United States cannot condemn Russia for violating Ukraine's national sovereignty while simultaneously interfering with democracy in Venezuela. These opposition protesters cannot claim to represent democracy while engaging in violence, sabotage and intimidation that hurts the most disadvantaged Venezuelans.

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