While tens of thousands of angry Venezuelans turned out for the 'mother of all protests' yesterday, facing an increasingly hostile military/police state, the numbers could have been significantly larger but for the fact that legions of poor Venezuelans are simply too frail from starvation to protest.
Some say they are intimidated by armed pro-government militias who scour the slums for signs of dissent. Others say they are afraid to lose the few food handouts the cash-strapped government still provides.
“We wear our protest on the inside for the fear of losing our bag of food,” said San Félix resident Luisa Gutiérrez, a single mother of three.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, President Nicolás Maduro has lost support among the legions of poor Venezuelans that once backed the late Hugo Chávez, but they have largely shown little interest in joining the opposition-led protests that have convulsed the country the past three weeks. Many of the impoverished residents of the vast slums that ring Caracas and other major cities are angry about a collapsing economy and food shortages. But Venezuela’s political unrest remains mostly confined to middle-class enclaves, underscoring the struggle the opposition here faces in trying to unseat an increasingly authoritarian government.
“All I have is hunger—I don’t care if the people protest or not,” said laborer Alfonzo Molero in a slum in Venezuela’s second-largest city, Maracaibo. “With what strength will I protest if my stomach is empty since yesterday?”
Until the slums rise up, Mr. Maduro will likely hang on, analysts say…
Almost two-thirds of Venezuela’s poor, as defined by a variety of socioeconomic factors, want Mr. Maduro to leave, up from 40% when he took office in early 2013, according to pollster Delphos.
The lower classes have also been instrumental in giving the opposition alliance a record two-thirds congressional majority in the last electoral contest, held in December 2015. Polls show the poor would hand the government a drubbing in any vote held this year.
Yet that growing disillusionment hasn’t translated into organized protest, said pollster Luis Vicente León.
Without support in the shantytowns, many opposition supporters fear the current protests will end like the previous wave of unrest in 2014, when three months of demonstrations in middle-class neighborhoods left 43 people dead—without achieving any political change. The failure of those protestshas demoralized and fractured the opposition alliance for years.
“For the masses to come out, they need to feel that they are at a point of no return,” said Félix Seijas Jr., director of pollster Delphos. “We’re still some ways away from that.”
Judging by the eating flamingos, suffering with no toilet paper or soap, and martial law controlling and repressing any anti-government sentiment, we suspect the clock is ticking… as the black-market Bolivar shows…
As Bloomberg details, Venezuela’s black market bolivar is trading at a record low of 4,709 per dollar, according to dolartoday.com, after at least two people were killed when security forces confronted protests against Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly-dictatorial regime with bullets and tear gas. Its weakness is a measure of both the shortage of dollars in the country, and the desperation of Venezuelans to buy food, medicine and other basics, most of which are imported. The official exchange rate is still fixed at around 10, while the legal market-based rate has been allowed to devalue at a controlled pace to 714 per dollar, a 5.8 percent devaluation this year compared with 33 percent on the black market.