Tensions mounting in Venezuela, creating free speech issues
The country of Venezuela has been in a state of unrest for almost three weeks as protestors and the government clash.
Protests are one of greatest examples of free speech practiced on a regular basis. From the civil rights movement to the revolutions of the Arab Spring, they have been one of the clearest signs of civil discontent. Unfortunately, these can sometimes lead to government violence and violent conditions around the country. This has been seen in numerous countries over the years, such as Libya, Syria and the Ukraine. Now, Venezuela has joined the list as well.
A number of socio-economic conditions have led to strong discontent among much of the Venezuelan population. Reuters reported that violent crime is growing, while inflation continues to grow and political opponents are repressed. Bloomberg Business Week noted that inflation has hit 56 percent and the budget deficit has grown by nearly 50 percent. Demonstrators have attributed this conditions to the current socialist government that is headed by President Nicolas Maduro.
Maduro took office shortly after the death of then President Hugo Chavez. He narrowly beat out Henrique Capriles, who is sympathizing with the the protestors.
Reuters reported that the majority of demonstrators are students and part of the younger demographic. They were led by Leopoldo Lopez, a Harvard educated economist and descendant of Simon Bolivar who led a revolution in the country over 200 years ago. NPR noted that Lopez recently turned himself over to the authorities amid one of the larger protests. Since this time, tensions have continued to mount in the country.
Some cities are now being considered war zones according to Reuters, with at least five protestors being killed since they became violent, and much more being injured and arrested.
Another concerning element of the protests is the how the media has portrayed these events. The representation of the clashes in the media is quite scattered. Reuters noted that local television channels have provided little live coverage of the events. As a result, Venezuelans have turned to social media.
Social media and civil unrest have a brief, but rich past. Twitter was responsible for helping spread word about the protests in Cairo during the Arab Spring and played an integral role in helping protestors mobilize.
This seems to be the similar case in Venezuela, with numerous users spreading images and video throughout the platforms including Facebook and Twitter providing first person evidence of the violence that is being perpetrated. Reuters noted that both sides of the clashes have been showing images of the violence, with the Socialist Party releasing images of the damage brought upon by demonstrators and protestors displaying images of the brutal actions of national guard troops. One of the more well known victims of the violence was local beauty queen and college student, Genesis Carmona, who was shot in the head at a demonstration in Valencia.
Another peculiar factor of these protests has been a decline in news papers reporting on the issues, but it is not for the same reason as the local television stations. Al Jazeera reported that printing paper has become a scarce commodity in the country, which has led to a number of news papers to reduce or cease production all together.
The news source noted that "El Nacional," one of the country's largest publications, announced that it had to cut content by 40 percent and only had enough stock paper to last a few weeks. This led to numerous people using the hashtag "#MarchaPorlaPrensa" (March for the Press in English) more than 20,000 times on Feb. 10.
These tensions are growing increasingly violent, which is becoming a major cause of concern. If democracy is to prevail, protestors and the government need to be able to engage peaceful and productive talks.