Talking with Pedro: Shit’s Going Down in Venezuela

Thousands of anti-government students lie on the ground during a protest in front of the Venezuelan Judiciary building in Caracas on Feb. 15. (LEO RAMIREZ / AFP – Getty Images)

The failure of all of our traditional news sources to keep us informed of what’s going on in the world is ghastly. Thankfully we now have VICE and VICE News which is in private beta right now. I got an invite, and it’s wonderful filled with news about Caracas, Ukraine, Central African Republic, South Sudan and even here in the United States.

Reporter Alex Miller has been reporting for VICE News and today reports that anti-government protestors have taken to mobile caravans to take their message to the middle class neighborhoods. Miller is reporting that no violence has broken out where he is today, but as with all things that is subject to change.

From what I’ve read and watched in his dispatches you have the student protesters and Nicolás Maduro’s government, the offspring of Hugo Chávez’s. The students want an end to the dictatorship; the government is claiming the protestors are right-wingers who want to overthrow them with a coup.

That brings me to Pedro, a 21-year old student who lives outside of Caracas but studies in the city. I asked him if he wanted to bring the Maduro government more accountable for the actions and be more transparent, he agreed.

“In all honesty, that’s what we want,” he said but he didn’t think that would be possible with this regime. “When you see an oil-rich country with far-right communists (they exist! Who would’ve known?) that blatantly lie to people and Photoshop pictures on the official tv channel and call the opposition fascists and insults all who differs. The only real way you see out of this is to overthrow the government.”

Pedro pointed back to the Venezuelan Youth Day on February 12 as the origin for this uprising. Students from different universities got together to protest the arrest of fellow students in front of the Public Ministry in Caracas. They also protested the general state of insecurity and the high crime rate (24,000 were murdered in Venezuela in 2013 according to the Venezuelan Observatory of Violence).

“The paramilitary killed two students, and ever since, we’ve been protesting against violence, illegal arrests and armed paramilitary killing our students,” Pedro said.

One thing that marks a difference between Venezuela and other popular uprisings we’ve seen over the last several years is the fact the poor sides with the Maduro government.

“Propaganda works in here as rascism and classism,” Pedro said. “It’s bad if you’re white, if you differ, if you have money or if you have ambitions. Ever read 1984? That’s exactly the idea. It’s a fascist state, you survive only by it and you have to worship it or else.”

There have been reports that right wingers have co-opted the student movement.

“That’s what the official tv channel says to alienate their followers, to keep them from joining the protests,” Pedro explained.

“I actually hate some opposition people, but we, the youth, have one focus: we need to live and we want to live here. Most of our parents tell us to finish school, uni, whatever to get out of the country and we don’t want that. We want to produce here.

“It isn’t something about opposition or not. It is a social yearning for a better lifestyle. As they say, ‘we don’t live, we survive.'”

With the 18 claimed to have been killed already in the protests, the hundreds detained and scores injured, I asked Pedro if he was scared. He said the fact that people have been killed, that over 200,000 have been murdered in 15 years, are the reasons he’s willing to stand up.

“By now we rather die fighting for a free country than being part of some statistics,” Pedro added.

After chatting with Pedro, it became even clearer that what’s happening in Venezuela isn’t as simple as black-and-white, rich-and-poor, left-and-right. Something has gotta give. While I hope it’s peaceful, I’m not very optimistic. People clinging to power are always desperate, and lord knows what they will stoop to.

Here are Alex Miller’s dispatches from Caracas: