In recent days, Venezuela has been rocked by large demonstrations and political turmoil. The protests began on January 23, when Venezuelans poured into the streets of Caracas (the capital) to mark the 52nd anniversary of their democratic revolution and also to protest against the failed, dictatorial policies of Hugo Chávez, which have produced electricity and water rationing, the worst inflation rate in the region, a deteriorating public health system, crumbling infrastructure, and high crime levels. (On Chávez’s watch, Caracas has become the most dangerous city in Latin America.)
While the government (predictably) organized its own counter-demonstration on January 23, the size and passion of the anti-Chávez protests was striking. According to the Associated Press, there were “tens of thousands” of protesters, many of whom were wearing T-shirts that said: “3 Strikes: Blackouts, Water Rationing and Crime. Chávez, You’ve Struck Out!” One protester told the AP that “Chávez is leading the country to ruin.”
A day after the massive march in Caracas, Chávez ordered that RCTV, a popular Venezuelan television channel, immediately be taken off the air. As the BBC reported, RCTV “was among six cable channels shut for failing to carry Mr. Chávez’s speeches live as required.” This sparked more protests in Caracas and other Venezuelan cities, led by students, which turned deadly -- in Mérida, two students were shot and killed.
Amid the protests and violence triggered by the closure of RCTV, two senior Venezuelan officials -- Vice President Ramón Carrizalez and his wife, Environment Minister Yubirí Ortega -- announced that they were resigning from the government. They cited “personal” reasons unrelated to RCTV. So what could those reasons be? According to credible reports, Carrizalez and Ortega were angry about the increasing power of Cuban officials within the Venezuelan military (as evidenced by the recent promotion of several Cuban officers to senior-level posts in the Venezuelan armed forces).
As Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl wrote earlier this week, “Hugo Chávez’s ‘socialism for the 21st century’ has been defeated and is on its way to collapse.” The Venezuelan people have demonstrated yet again that they willing to brave government violence and risk their lives to demand freedom. It’s unclear how Chávez will weather the storm of economic problems, popular protests, and political infighting. But the ongoing demonstrations, along with the resignations of Carrizalez and Ortega, indicate that his vaunted revolution could be nearing a breaking point.
Jaime Daremblum, who served as Costa Rica’s ambassador to the United States from 1998 to 2004, is director of the Center for Latin American Studies at the Hudson Institute.