The Truth about Venezuela: A Revolt of the Well-off, Not a ‘Terror Campaign’

John Kerry’s rhetoric is divorced from the reality on the ground, where life goes on – even at the barricades

Source: The Guardian

Images forge reality, granting a power to television and video and even still photographs that can burrow deep into people’s consciousness without them even knowing it. I thought that I, too, was immune to the repetitious portrayals of Venezuela as a failed state in the throes of a popular rebellion. But I wasn’t prepared for what I saw in Caracas this month: how little of daily life appeared to be affected by the protests, the normality that prevailed in the vast majority of the city. I, too, had been taken in by media imagery.

Major media outlets have already reported that Venezuela’s poor have not joined the right-wing opposition protests, but that is an understatement: it’s not just the poor who are abstaining – in Caracas, it’s almost everyone outside of a few rich areas like Altamira, where small groups of protesters engage in nightly battles with security forces, throwing rocks and firebombs and running from tear gas.

Walking from the working-class neighborhood of Sabana Grande to the city center, there was no sign that Venezuela is in the grip of a “crisis” that requires intervention from the Organization of American States (OAS), no matter what John Kerry tells you. The metro also ran very well, although I couldn’t get off at Alta Mira station, where the rebels had set up their base of operations until their eviction this week.

I got my first glimpse of the barricades in Los Palos Grandes, an upper-income area where the protesters do have popular support, and neighbors will yell at anyone trying to remove the barricades – which is a risky thing to attempt (at least four people have apparently been shot dead for doing so). But even here at the barricades, life was pretty much normal, save for some snarled traffic. On the weekend, the Parque del Este was full of families and runners sweating in the 90-degree heat – before Chávez, you had to pay to get in, and the residents here, I was told, were disappointed when the less well-to-do were allowed to enter for free. The restaurants are still crowded at night.

Travel provides little more than a reality check, of course, and I visited Caracas mainly to gather data on the economy. But I came away skeptical of the narrative, reported daily in the media, that increasing shortages of basic foods and consumer goods are a serious motivation for the protests. The people who are most inconvenienced by those shortages are, of course, the poor and working classes. But the residents of Los Palos Grandes and Altamira, where I saw real protests happening – they have servants to stand in line for what they need, and they have the income and storage space to accumulate some inventory.