Venezuelan newspaper editor Eleazar Diaz Rangel explains why the residents of the country’s barrios are shunning protests.
Recently, on a March morning, I received a European journalist, one of so many who come to Venezuela during newsworthy moments, one of those who visit media outlets seeking testimony and opinion that may help in forming a complete perspective on the country’s situation for reports, chronicles, or articles they must send home.
In response to one of his questions, I spoke of the guarimba [protest barricades], their class composition, their location in Caracas and other cities, always in middle class family sectors under the jurisdiction of opposition party governors or mayors, and about their possible financing, which is currently being investigated by the Attorney General.
The director’s office at Ultimas Noticias [newspaper] boasts wide picture windows that look out over a good part of Petare, with its hills overrun by slums, housing units and industrial buildings. Gesturing at them [the journalist] asked, “And there are no guarimbas there?”
I explained. In those areas there are no guarimbas. Despite considerable effort, protestors were unable to attract or incorporate these youths. The journalist couldn’t understand how in protests against scarcity, hunger, poor living conditions, etc as he is informed by international media, and as per Venezuela’s steadfast image in the minds of many, why the poorest of Caracas would be outside of those protests and not participate in the violent activity.
I told him that it’s true there’s scarcity, that I believe it’s one of the forerunning problems in the country, that you must wait in long lines to have access to many key products, but people have the resources to buy them; the problem is locating them, a difficulty not confined the slums, but present in diverse class sectors.
I informed him of what happened in Caracas in late February 1989. One morning, in the neighboring town of Guarenas, the people began to protest violently when they heard that the cost of bus tickets to the capital had risen. The protest spread quickly, with ferocity, as people began to riot and loot businesses. Thousands of people, starting with the poor and extending to other classes, would leave supermarkets and malls carrying everything they could find. This went on for three days. The police and National Guard could not detain it; there were scenes of police clinging to order by insisting “the looting must take place in an orderly fashion!” The government for their part sent the army to repress the riots. In the end, we were told 500 died, though many estimates place the true number in the thousands.
There is a great difference: at that time the businesses were well-stocked but the poor people, almost half the population, did not have money to buy their wares. Today they have it, but the difficulty lies in finding what they wish to buy.
The reporter was surprised.
The explanation can be found in various statistics. For example, the average monthly income per family in 2011 was 4,282 bolivars. The following year, it rose to 6,252 bolivars, and on December 31st of 2013 it was at 8,514 bolivars. As you can see, in just two years, it was doubled.
It is an opportune moment, this Sunday of Resurrection, to offer you some other little numbers, as baseball fans are prone to do.
First we look at university enrollment, as there’s been some effort for this “student movement” to appear to be the vanguard of the protests. In the year 2000 there were 862,862 students in university, in 2005 there were 1,526,625 and a last year there were 2,629,312. As for social spending, there’s been an equal increase; from BsF 11.458 billion monthly in 2005, funds jumped to BsF. 134.414 billion monthly last year. Health spending went from BsF 8 billion in 2005 to BsF 89 billion in 2013, although this is an area which still needs improvement.
The fact that there’s been better service to the poor, with numerous social investments, and that today these people, including the elderly, live better than 10 or 15 years ago explains why the popular neighborhoods have not joined the middle class protests, neither the peaceful majority of them and much less the violent factions.
I am not sure, in the end, what this reporter wrote for his newspaper.
Eleazar Diaz Rangel has been the director of leading Venezuelan newspaper Ultimas Noticias since 2001. He was the president of public television channel VTV from 1994-96.
Translated by Z.C. Dutka for Venezuelanalysis.com.