By: John Wyatt – Section Editor
The year of 2014 has already seen its share of unrest the past two months. Conflicts in countries like Ukraine and Syria have garnered worldwide coverage in the media.
However, several other countries, such as Thailand and Venezuela, have seen similar conflicts and protests, yet have largely flown under the radar of the nation’s media.
The Diversity Student Union (DSU) and several other Centre students have teamed up to help raise awareness about the growing conflict in Venezuela.
Initial protests broke out in early January this year among groups of students (the majority of the protestors) scattered across the country, later spilling into the cities and turning into a nationwide protest.
The reasons for protests range anywhere on the spectrum from economic to social, though high levels of crime, high inflation rates (some estimates claim 56%), scarcity of basic goods, and lack of freedom of speech are believed to be the most significant factors in the protests.
While the protestsors blame the country’s problems on an ineffective government, government officials blame the opposition for the recent social and economic problems.
Government officials have even gone as far as to blame the United States for conspiring with protestors. In one instance, President Maduro gave U.S. diplomats 48 hours to leave the country, accusing them of conspiring with the opposition.
“In the past 15 years, the Venezuelan government has taken a lot of channels off the air due to indirect comments towards the government in an attempt to censor the media,” senior Maria Mosquera said.
“What you see in the media is you have the government saying the country is fine, and the opposition is saying the opposite.”
Most news has come from Venezuelans posting on various websites like Twitter or CNN. An estimated 2,000 user-submitted stories were uploaded to CNN’s user-generated platform, iReport.
YouTube has also been vital in uploading video coverage of the event from Venezuelan citizens. Several videos depict protestors being beaten by police or military officials. Others show students being chased by anti-protestors who ride around on motorcycles.
To help raise awareness on the conflict, the DSU, along with several other students, organized a day where students wore white as a sign of peace, and later stood in front of the Campus Center on Fri. February 21, holding signs in hopes of raising awareness on Centre’s campus.
Several students participated in the demonstration for a number of reasons. “It is for a great cause,” first-year Valentine Banor said. “Though you cannot physically do anything, the support and awareness we are trying to bring is the next best thing.”
For some students though, the cause hits closer to home. “My mind automatically jumped back to my country, Guyana, which borders Venezuela,” sophomore Ashley Barker said. “I understand that my country can fall into a very similar situation that Venezuela is in, because our government is also having problems, so I can relate.”
Some students however have close relatives currently living in Venezeula. Mosquera has close family who are curently dealing with the protests happening right outside their door.
“My dad was born in Venezuela, and he came over here when he was 27, so most of his family is still there,” Mosquera said. “Back home, my grandmother, my aunt, all of my cousins, and my uncle are all there though.”
Most of the nation is split evenly over the protests, and Mosquera’s family is no exception. “Even my family is divided on the issue. You have my grandmother who still believes in the government, but my cousins are the complete opposite. My dad told me ‘you even have sisters in Venezuela who don’t speak to each other, because it’s so divisive.’”
A series of meetings began as of Monday, March 3 in Geneva between U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Venezuelan Foreign Minister, Elias Jaua, where Jaua will explain his government’s actions in front of the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Those who want to learn more on the conflict can do research online, or talk to any of the students involved.
Anyone who wants to get involved in any further demonstrations or to help in any way can contact Maria Mosquera, who helped organized the event.