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Venezuelan students grapple with violence from afar

Published: Monday, February 24, 2014

Updated: Monday, February 24, 2014 23:02


David Cohen

Venezuelan student Esteban Garcia (center), pictured with Eduardo Cerri and Julio Gonzalez, says while he is located in Texas he is emotionally invested in Venezuela.

While the violent conflict in Venezuela continues across lines and borders, the effects of the turmoil are felt by Venezuelan Aggies.    

Esteban Garcia was born and raised in Venezuela, and came to Texas A&M to follow in his parents’ Aggie footsteps. Garcia, senior civil engineering major, said his life is still very much rooted in his home country.

“I am emotionally, and my life is invested in Venezuela,” Garcia said.

Garcia said because of his investment in Venezuela, he feels Venezuelan students are in many ways fighting his battle.

Garcia said the movement led by Venezuelan university students was revitalized on Feb. 12, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Victoria, a battle for independence against the Spanish government in Venezuela. Garcia said the movement began in part because Venezuelans wanted the right to formulate their own opinions.  

“So, the [Venezuelan] students try to make something out of [the symbolic date] and demanded a nation-wide protest and marches all over the country,” Garcia said. “This is because especially at these universities, these are public universities, the government has tried to implement the ideology of their own, of communism and socialism, into students that just want to think by themselves, who don’t want to be told what to think.”

Garcia said those involved with the movement are also concerned about the crime rates in Venezuela. Garcia said his father and his friends’ fathers have been kidnapped in the past. Garcia said it is now a widespread practice to rob someone then drop the robbed party in the middle of nowhere hours later to ensure that no one is following them. Because of this security threat, Garcia said he now calls his mother three to four times a day to make sure that his family is okay.

“It is awful, you cannot go on the streets,” Garcia said. “While you are walking, you are going to get mugged. I am constantly fearful for my mom and dad every time they leave for work. Like this, there are many stories. Most of the students over here identify with this security problem.”

Gina Yannitell Reinhardt, assistant professor at the Bush School with an expertise in Latin American political systems, said movements such as the one in Venezuela right now typically involve university students, as this segment of society is in an environment that encourages activity and organization.

“Students are the people who spend a lot of time thinking about things on an intellectual level,” Reinhardt said. “It’s certainly not entirely true, but it tends to be a time in somebody’s life when they are learning a lot about the interaction of economics and politics and society in a way that sort of awakens their own thoughts and feelings, sometimes puts concrete terminology to things they’ve already been thinking and feeling.”

Reinhardt said the movement is in itself uncertain for a number of reasons, including a lack of media coverage.

If the uncertain goal of protestors is to remove current Venezuelan president Nicholas Maduro, Reinhardt said there is a possibility that protests are replacing more democratic means of addressing the problem.

Reinhardt said the protestor’s plight mirrors a distribution of wealth debate also found in the U.S., wherein members of the middle class want to pay lower taxes and the poorer segments of society want or possibly need financial help.

Reinhardt said this political ideology went into governmental practice in Venezuela when Hugo Chavez took power under the pretense of helping the country’s poor.

Reinhardt said the movement is largely taking place in a few pockets of the country with a strong middle class and a lot of university students, not in poorer segments of the country that generally supported Chavez before he endorsed current president Nicholas Maduro.

 “So, it doesn’t appear that this movement is really widespread — that it’s completely national in terms of being in all locations of the country,” Reinhardt said. “It’s really local, and it’s in a few pockets.”

The governmental suppression of social media is a factor that fuels the protestors’ fire, Reinhardt said, as shutting out underground media and outside media has been a common practice of dictators in repressing past protests.

“So governments are afraid of [social media] now,” Reinhardt said. “It’s not unique to shut those things down, and that’s what’s starting to make it look scary and what’s starting to make it seem very much like a dictatorship instead of just a standard, ‘Hey we are trying to keep control or order.’”

With the Venezuelan government’s shut down of various social media outlets and opposing broadcast channels, Garcia said the Venezuelan population cannot be properly informed.

In an effort to collects as much information on the movement as possible, Garcia said he views broadcast channels that the government allows in Venezuela every day to see what the opposing political sides are reporting. Garcia said these channels are repressive and unfortunately the only news options for Venezuelans.

“I see the channels every day just to see what the other side of the political parties are saying, and, I mean it’s brainwashing, it’s communism,” Garcia said. “It’s a constant derogatory end, they try to insult those that think like you, they try to make them their enemies, they create hate between classes and that can’t be tolerated anymore.”

Reinhardt said another reason the movement is unclear is because the demands of protestors vary.

“It’s not really clear what the demands are,” Reinhardt said. “It’s not really clear what this movement wants, and to say, ‘We want an end to Maduro, we want an overthrow,’ that’s a big thing to ask for. They don’t really have a viable leader to install in his place. To say they want a new election would be different, but they aren’t really saying that either that we can tell.”

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