As I saw the New York Times cover this morning, I couldn’t help but gasp: “finally.” After days of violent clashes between students and National Guard troops in Venezuela, American media is catching on -– two weeks late.
So, why should we be paying more attention to the crisis in Venezuela?
No, it’s not just oil.
American media should be paying more attention to Venezuela for three other reasons:
First and foremost, the human rights abuses taking place every day with government oversight. In the past 14 days, Venezuelan protesters, comprised mostly of students and the middle class, have been shot; tear-gassed, beaten and arrested by National Police. Fifteen people have died as a result of the protests, seven of them were shot in the head. In addition, two local human rights organizations, Provea and the Venezuelan Penal Forum, have also called for investigations on the ongoing torture of detainees.
Here are two tragic (and very graphic) stories that haven’t made their way into American headlines: Geraldine Moreno, a student, died this past Saturday after troops shot numerous plastic bullets at her eyes. Juan Manuel Carrasco, 21, y Jorge Luis León, 25 - two male students detained in the city of Valencia - were allegedly raped with long guns by military troops and handcuffed for 48 hours. There is has been no word of an official investigation, and the two are only being helped by an NGO, Venezuelan Penal Forum.
These are just two examples: everyday there are new YouTube videos and Twitter posts that show government troops and police committing abuses.
Secondly, the domestic media blackout imposed by President Nicolas Maduro makes coverage by international outlets all the more crucial. All local stations have been bought off or silenced. The only foreign television station reporting live – the Colombian outlet NTN24- was yanked off air by Maduro last week. CNNEE host Patricia Janiot had her journalism credentials revoked and was forced to leave the country. They even searched her for drugs. Maduro said he would let CNNEE remain on Venezuelan cable "if they behaved". It goes without saying that only a small percentage of the population even has cable.
The internet is no exception. News sites like lapatilla.com are intermittently taken down; the government even blocked Twitter images and digital walkie-talkie apps like Zello. As a journalist, I felt Venezuelans’ desperation as I was reporting on the ground. In big protests, they would make way for my cameraman and me. They shouted: “Let her by, we need her, she is our only window to the world.”
And lastly, American media should pay more attention to Venezuela because its fate is intrinsically linked with Cuba, and thus future of the region. Security forces in Venezuela have been infiltrated and orchestrated straight from Havana since 2002. For more than a decade, Venezuela has provided a financial lifeline to the Castro brothers and they are not about to see that oil piggybank change hands. The Venezuela-Cuba partnership has proven strong and has directly challenged American influence in the region.
Unlike recent events in Ukraine, the crisis in Venezuela will unfold slowly. Local politics are very polarized, with divisions within “chavismo” and the opposition. These protests won’t mean anything until there is a broader coalition. But they have spread and “a-political” Venezuelans are fed up with the violence and scarcity of basic goods. The country is essentially paralyzed.
American media shouldn’t be.
Update: It’s worth noting that The Associated Press, whose photo we used above, has had journalists and photographers covering the crisis in Venezuela since it began.