The Chavez years brought to poor Venezuelans the hope of a brighter future. Venezuela, like many other South American country, has been dogged by violence, economic instability and a class division whose persistence has kept millions in abject poverty.
But Chavez's reign also left the country bereft of true innovation. There was a lack of organic planning, and most of the moves made by Chavez seemed to be prompted by populism, rather than true reform that could have finally lifted the poorer millions into a fledgling middle class.
To boot, he squandered billions in oil revenue, either by selling it too cheaply, or by using the income it provided unwisely.
That has left the hand his picked successor, Nicholas Maduro, with a very shaky economic picture, which he is not equipped to ameliorate.
Many scoffed at Chavez's choice. A former bus driver, Maduro ascended to his position by becoming a confidante of Chavez. As much as he is the heir to the communist vision Chavez expounded, many believe he does not have the expertise and the intelligence to fix Venezuela's problems.
The opposition, which has been waiting for years for the economy to tank to get rid of Chavez's legacy and successors, has finally got its wish. Things are pretty bad right now in Venezuela , and the opposition seems to think it has the reversal of the Chavist legacy finally in view.
But the Chavistas are not so keen to return to the old days, before reforms granted them some assistance. Furthermore, there are even more radical elements in the Chavista movement, who want to steer the country into an even more radical form of government.
The protests on both sides have already resulted in three deaths. If anything, it shows how dangerous the situation has become. Neither side is willing to let go of their aspirations and plans.
Strangely enough, the protests started because of soaring rate of crime. Then it was bolstered by student protest, quashed by the Maduro government. Now however, the main culprit is the deteriorating economic picture.
Maduro for now, is firmly entrenched in power. Bolstered by a military made up almost entirely by Chavez's handpicked members, there is little reason to belive the protests could bear any fruit. However, because of the crime rate, and the unrest caused by growing inflation and cost of living, armed militias are becoming stronger. And that could truly be a challenge for the Maduro government.
In Venezuela, a group called "the Collective", made up of people who enforced Chavez's socialist rule at the local level, is coming under attack by opponents of the Maduro regime, and by armed opponent militias alike. The Collective, responding to the protests, has ramped up their own intimidation tactics. In neighborhood where the Collective has firm control, not even the army wants to go.
The Collective however, is becoming radicalized. They want Chavez's ideal of a communist regime to be realized in its most radical form and are making the most of the protests to push for their own agenda. The police in localities, under Maduro's orders do not stop the Collective's enforcers from clashing violently with the protesters, are giving the Collective free reign during demonstrations and protests. The resulting clashes, and the Collective's armed offensive against the opposition have been cleverly hidden by the Venezuelan media, which was purged during Chavez's years. Even neighbouring countries' telecasts have been ordered taken down by Maduro, as evidenced by a telecast in Colombia quickly taken away from live broadcast during the violent protests.
Food shortages, horrible murder rates and kidnappings, shrinking salaries, all are contributing to fueling mass discontent. No matter how much the protests are repressed, they are not bound to fade away.
Maduro and his faithful see the protests as the opposition, desperate, last ditch attempt at stopping the march towards communist rule that Chavez promised and which Maduro has vowed to continue. Although it is true that the opposition has been waiting for years to put a stop to the totalitarian regime instituted by Chavez, the local elections have confirmed the people's choice just recently, although there is no reason to believe that Maduro has not interfered with the local elections in sufficient measure to secure those victories. The landslide in governorships obtained in those elections point to unrealistic outcomes in a country where, even at a local level, there is at this point enough discontent to at least show up in some of the elections' results.
What Maduro is now poised to enact, is a crackdown that will see the opposition silenced, by any measure. Rounds of arrests have already begun, just as the initial student protest began and then increased with the growth in the general protest. Just this week, Leopoldo Lopez, the leader of one of the opposition groups has been ordered arrested. Of course Maduro has already offered a laundry list of charges against the leader, which include sedition. The list also includes accusations that Lopez received funds, probably in the future attributed to some Western government, to enact a violent campaign aimed at overthrowing Chavez.
The violence, furthermore, that resulted in the deaths and promises to cause many more, has been used on both sides as a pawn to justify future action. However, there is obviously a great deal of blame to be placed on the Collective's own vigilante tactics, which have sparked the worse of the riots.
For now, Maduro has ordered a total ban on any protest. The lignthing fast campaign of repression and the subsequent arrests are emboldening protesters even more. If Maduro thinks he can put a lid on the opposition, he is frighteningly wrong. Venezuela is armed and cocked. It has been sitting on the brink of unrest for a long while, and there is little reason to believe that it won't see further explosions.
What the protests will do however, is remind that the deep fissure between the have and the have nots will not soon be narrowed. Some say that Maduro will prevail, if nothing else because of the military support, and because he still has a lot of supporters among the poorest people, who see in him a champion of their cause. But the deepening economic recession cannot be fixed in a day, and it cannot be fixed by the measures adopted by the Chavez regime. For that reason, even if Maduro retain powers, he will be ruling over a divided and restive country.
source: Guardian/ 1.15.14