Venezuela in the wake of Hugo Chavez

Alejandro Mejias is a 21 year old Monash University student from Venezuela studying a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication)

Alejandro Mejias is a 21 year old Monash University student from Venezuela studying a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication)

Two Venezuelan Monash University students share their perspectives on the current Venezuelan situation.

Written by Saúl A. Zavarce

Venezuela, the weather is perfect, birds are everywhere, the people are beautiful and music is the soul of its culture and land.

For all its beauty, culture and charm, Venezuela is a troubled country part of a very troubled continent.

For Monash University student Alejandro Mejias, having left his mother and extended family in 2010 to study a Bachelor of Design (Visual Communication) looking back at the country we call home during this turbulent time is difficult.

Before the election Mr Mejias was apathetic and largely impartial to politics in Venezuela.

“If Chavez was still in the power, I wouldn’t have had a reason to vote. In the past elections I didn’t want to vote because I knew Chavez was gonna win again. I don’t think it was futile, I just knew Chavez was gonna win, because the opponent did not have the same leadership and did not have the same charisma,” said Mr Mejias.

The death of Chavez March 5 opened possibilities for reform and change in the Bolivarian Republic.

“This was the first time I’ve ever wanted to vote. As much as I liked some of the things that Chavez was doing and I believe that socialism could work, I don’t think Maduro now would do what Chavez was exactly doing, I don’t think this guy is a leader in the first place,” said Mr Mejias.

In the end Nicolas Maduro, the political heir to Hugo Chavez, won the election by a narrow and suspicious margin of less than one percent, defeating political opponent Henrique Capriles. This election like others has been plagued by rumours of corruption and cheating.

The void that Hugo Chavez’ death leaves is inescapable. What he did for the poor in Venezuela is undeniable, poverty has fallen dramatically in Venezuela, dropping from nearly 50% in 1999 at the start of his term to 27% in 2011. While some attribute this to a general rise in oil prices worldwide, it is important to note the country’s population grew 23% during Chavez’ time in office.

The rise of the poor along with Venezuela’s overall population growth is important context to the problems that Venezuelans face. Since 1998, Chavez increased social investments from 8.4% of GDP to 18.8% of GDP by 2008.

Chavez also stunned the international community by being one of the fastest nations in the world to achieve four of the eight Millennium Development Goals during his time.

At the same time, Chavez’ hardline leftwing economic policies and attack on globalization has set it up as a market with poor investment opportunities. It is estimated that since 1999 more than a million predominantly middle to upper class Venezuelans have left the nation citing a repressive political system, lack of economic opportunities, steep inflation, a high crime rate, and corruption as reason for emigration.

The two biggest issues facing Venezuelans is crime and inflation.

The sad truth is that regardless of the winner of these elections in Venezuela, the nation they are charged to run is one of the most violent in the world. Its capital Caracas being the sixth most violent city in the world, sporting a nationwide murder rate of 47 people per 100 000, double the average for the rest of the Latin America.

Venezuela's murder rate is well above the global average.

Venezuela’s murder rate is well above the global average.

Likewise inflation is above the global average and twice as high as the rest of Latin America.

Venezuela's inflation rates is well above the national average.

Venezuela’s inflation rates is well above the  continent’s national average.

Venezuela’s inflation problem is as dire to the economy as crime is to its people.

It is for this reason that Mr Mejias claims there is a need for reform and change.

“I thought it got to the point where we needed someone fresh, someone young with the kind of energy that this guy (Capriles) has. It’s good because he was willing to keep some of the things that the socialist government was doing, but then including some of these other things as well he kind of  balanced it out,” said Mr Mejias.

“This guy (Maduro) is kind of like a puppet, he tries to be like Chavez so much and it doesn’t work. A lot of people have realised that lately as well, he will definitely lose a lot of support in the next few years I say.”

Now it seems with Chavez’ successor in power through his dubious win, Venezuela will follow in the footsteps of Chavez. Reforms to the policies which lead to a tripling in the crime rate and rise in inflation are unlikely to happen.

Perhaps it is as Joseph de Maistre said it was “every nation has the government it deserves”, maybe it isn’t. What we do know is that the identity of Venezuela will always prevail despite its problems, it is paradise on Earth, the weather is perfect, birds are everywhere, the people are beautiful and
music is the soul of its culture and land.

For further information on Venezuela:
Timeline to Venezuela’s achievements of the eight Millennium Development Goals.

Venezuelan Music:
Un Solo Pueblo – Viva Venezuela

Un Solo Pueblo is an Afro-Latin music group from Venezuela.

Simon Diaz – Caballo Viejo

Simon Diaz is a Grammy Award winning Venezuelan singer and composer.

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About Saúl A. Zavarce

Venezuelan-Australian journalist and international relations academic.

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