South America

“In Venezuela We Don’t Live, We Survive.” A Millennial Fights For His Country While It Falls Apart

Ever since Nicolás Maduro’s rise to Venezuela’s presidency in 2013, the nation’s already unstable political and social situation has continued to deteriorate.

Insecurity, food shortage, a devastated economy and peaceful protests followed by violent repression are part of Venezuela’s daily life.

And millennials in the country are increasingly caught up in the unrest that threatens to tear apart the nation.

“Everyday, I see something that makes me think that we have to find a way out of this,” 19 year old student Juan Simón Ávila said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “There’s no day in Venezuela in which you’re happy or in which you can say that nothing happened in the country. It’s very hard.”

Ávila is a TRX fitness coach, and a musician.

Everyday, he leaves his house at 7 a.m. to go to work and everyday he see’s something dramatic in the streets of Valencia, the nation’s third largest city and the home of University of Carabobo, where Ávila goes to school.

“I see what’s going on,” Ávila said. “There’s people eating from the garbage and long lines of people outside of gas stations and food markets. People have left their jobs and they seek for any activity that may create more income to survive. In Venezuela we don’t live, we survive.”

In the past few years, Venezuela has suffered from a serious shortage not only in staple foods such as milk, chicken, coffee and rice, but also on staple products such as toilet paper and even medicines.

19 year old activist Juan Simón Ávila. Photo Credit: Submitted.

The Venezuelan economy is heavily reliant on global oil forces, and times have been tough in recent years as the price has been driven low.

This shortage of daily stable items is called by some Venezuelans, “Maduro’s Diet”.

“The amount of food has declined and people eat less,” Ávila said. “Not only that, but we’re also worried about not having enough food to get through the week and about insecurity. I go out and I worry about getting robbed, kidnapped or even killed. I want to walk through the streets without being afraid.”

Venezuela’s streets also witness the abusive and violent way in which the army and the police crush the citizens’ pacific protests.

They throw tear gas and shoot lead balls as well as real bullets to Venezuelans who attend protests with nothing but banners, whistles and tambourines.

As protests become a daily occurrence in Venezuela, the importance of the young generations cannot be overstated.

They are forming the core of protests and are pushing for rebuilding their country while forcing their voices to be heard.

“There are no reasons to stay at home, but there’s too many reasons to go out there and fight to recover our country,” Ávila said. “I want to finish my degree and I want to leave, but I want to come back and rebuild Venezuela. How could I come back if I didn´t fight until the last day I was here?”

Now in his third year as a student in the University of Carabobo, Ávila has seen how the country’s fragile economy and growing instability have taken a toll in the education sector.

“Universities are a mirror of Venezuela’s situation, or at least mine is,” Ávila said. “Everything is abandoned. The university is destroyed and my college is falling apart.”

The University of Carabobo, which runs on federal funds, is one of Venezuela’s five autonomous universities.

However, given the state of the country’s economy, the university has not received any federal aid to support itself for over six months.

With no money to maintain the facilities or pay the professors, university authorities are still deliberating whether to declare bankruptcy and suspend the institution’s activities.

“I wouldn’t go to class anyway,” Ávila said. “Venezuela comes first because if we don’t fight for it now, then we won’t do it ever. And how is it useful to me to go to college and attend classes if I won’t have a country to work in?”

With escalating street violence and a repressive and tyrannical government in charge, Venezuelans see no quick solution to the problem that afflicts their country.

“This government has to stop,” Ávila said. “Maduro has to leave. We’ve called for pacts and elections, but they have shown they don’t care about what anyone says. I don’t see any way of solving this conflict in the near future. Maybe we need a big rebellion or a foreign intervention because Venezuela’s situation will not be solved through democracy.”

Ávila said he looks forward to finishing his degree in Fiscal Science and going to Mexico with his sister Rosa María to play music.

“People out there have to know that there’s people here fighting for Venezuela,” Ávila said. “They have to know that Venezuelans’ human rights are being violated, but that we’re still here facing this government. They have to know that there’s people who believe that this country will get through this. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but we will get through this. People out there have to realize and talk about how there’s something going on in Venezuela.”

Read More: While America Closes Up Shop, Mexico Opens Its Arms To Syrian Students

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Photo Credits: Juan Simón Ávila/ Submitted

So What The Hell Is Going On In Colombia?

The conflict in Colombia between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla movement has been present in the lives of millions for over 52 years.

This armed conflict has not only severely affected the country in terms of violence but has also brought detrimental social and economic consequences.

The current Colombian administration took important steps into achieving a peace settlement, but after a plebiscite the Colombian people decided they would not agree on the terms of the agreement the government had negotiated.

This is what you need to know about Colombia and the current situation in regards to the peace process with the FARC:

FARC- Who are they?

The seeds of the FARC was started in 1953 when Colombia had a dictator as a leader called Gustavo Rojas Pinilla. (The group was officially founded 11 years later in 1964.)

Pinilla was against the liberal guerrillas (a group that favored the federalist system) and he was constantly attacking these groups.

Read More: Is This South Africa’s Tiananmen Square Moment?

As a consequence, self-defense groups formed and they “sought to protect themselves from the action of government militaries” (Leach 2011). These groups believed in a greater justice for the field.

While the FARC was at first ideologically motivated, it became more than that- involved in drug running and kidnappings to name a few.

A cache of FARC weapons collected by the government in 2013. Photo Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A cache of FARC weapons collected by the government in 2013. Photo Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The FARC-EP is still fighting 52 years later and as the years have gone by they have started to utilize terrorist tactics and commit gross violations of human rights, they also profit from the illicit drug trade.

Peace Negotiations and the October Plebiscite

In 2012, President Juan Manuel Santos announced that he was going to initiate peace talks with the FARC; his goals were to end the conflict.

President Santos’ strategy for implementing a peace process with the FARC had major differences compared to the ones made by former Presidents Pastrana and Uribe.

Scholars such as Meuci noted that there were three major differences of the peace negotiations that took place in La Habana, Cuba:

1) The Colombian Government was negotiating in a strong position because the FARC was extremely weak, 2) Venezuela and other neighboring countries were taken into account, 3) the peace process had a pre-negotiation stage in 2011.

The peace talks were limited to five negotiation points- these being agrarian reform, the political participation of former FARC members, the procedures and statues that would bring an end to the armed conflict, The FARC involvement in the international drug trade, and the sources of reparation for victims. (Alvira 2013)

Colombian President  Juan Manuel Santos. Photo Credit: Ministerio TIC Colombia/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos. Photo Credit: Ministerio TIC Colombia/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

After four years of negotiations, Santos promised the Colombian people he would release the final agreement and subject it to a popular vote.

On October 2, 2016 a non-binding plebiscite was held.

The question to answer in the vote was “Do you support the final agreement to end the conflict and the construction of a stable long-lasting peace?”

Colombians were to vote Yes or No.

Colombians rejected the peace accord and the “No” won by 50.2 percent against the “Yes” 49.8 percent.

What’s Next?

After the announcement of the results,  Santos acknowledged the results as the will of the people and called for national unity.

He talked about his commitment with achieving peace and desire to reach a consensus with Colombians that did not agree with him.

At the same time, one of the FARC leaders talked about his compromise to reach peace and to keep the cease-fire agreement in place.

The leaders of the “No” camp reassured that people were rejecting the concessions that the government made with the FARC but not rejecting peace.

They argued the government was more or less rewarding terrorist and that this emphasized the need for renegotiation and for a better deal with the FARC.

Photo Credit: SV-AS10 ImageData

Photo Credit: SV-AS10 ImageData

The current situation is an opportunity for true consensus through renegotiation.

Santos’ new plans are to include the thoughts from leaders of the “No” camp such as Alvaro Uribe Velez, Marta Lucia Ramirez, and Andrés Pastrana Arango.

Read More: What The Revolution Wrought: The Umbrella Movement Two Years On

This is essential to help mitigate the division and polarization in the country.

The next step is to truly form points of discussion and agreements that both sides (within the government) agree and then renegotiate with the FARC.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in the world. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Photo Credit: bixentro/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Sources cited in piece: 

Leech, Garry. The FARC: The longest insurgency. London and New York: Fernwood Publishing, Zed Book ltd, 2011.

Meucci, M. (2013). Proceso de paz en Colombia. Posibles implicaciones para Venezuela. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, 3-19. Translated by Juliana Carvajal

Alvira, G. (2013). Toward a New Amnesty: The Colombian Peace Process and the Inter- American Court of Human Rights. Tulane Journal of International and Comparative Law, 22, 119-144.

That Time America Went To War Over Bananas

By Nate Nkumbu

Often you look at a banana and you see a table item or a common breakfast food. But many people wouldn’t believe that the fruit holds a dark history in Latin America and that the United States government actually supported dictators for this peel-able food.

The Banana Wars were period between 1898 and 1934 were the U.S heavily intervened in Latin American politics.

Using the legacy of the Monroe doctrine, the U.S invaded countries like Cuba, Haiti, Panama, Colombia, and Honduras to protect the Banana plantations and other investments made in the countries according to Jose Cruz, Director of Research for the Kimberley Green Latin American and Caribbean center at Florida International University.

Cruz said in an interview with RISE NEWS that the period saw many in Latin America view the United States as occupying forces as opposed to being just a neighbor up north.

The Monroe doctrine help to establish America’s dominance in Latin America but in 1904, in an addition to the long standing US posture of dominating influence in the Western Hemisphere, President Theodore Roosevelt upped the ante.

In the Roosevelt Corollary, TR gave the U.S the ammo it needed to justify its intervention in Central and South America by arguing that America shouldn’t just prevent European control in the hemisphere, but that it should also use military force to further American interests there.

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

A worker offloading bananas in Mobile, Alabama in 1937. Photo Credit: C. Thomas Anderson/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that the most blatant case during the banana wars was the U.S intervening in Honduras seven times between 1903 and 1925.

He said that companies like United Fruit which had owned plantations in Honduras would call on the U.S Marines to deal with political insurrections and that the local elite were supportive of the actions.

So yes. American Marines were basically the private police force of American fruit companies. Just let that sink in for a second and try not to laugh.

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“The local elite in Honduras got paid or received payments from companies like United Fruit to protect their plantations,” Cruz said. “In some places, the people working on the plantations were able to unionize thanks in part to some of the United Fruit workers coming from America helping them, but this was in small amounts.”

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Photo Credit: AMISOM Public Information/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Cruz said that United Fruit had often put down worker’s strikes with violence. One notable case was the Banana Massacre of 1928 where Colombian workers for the company were killed following strikes demanding better working conditions.

Cruz said that the effect of the Banana Massacre is still felt today in places like Colombia.

“Just 10 years ago, Chiquita Bananas was accused of hiring paramilitary troops to put down strikes in their plantations in Colombia, likewise other corporations like Coca Cola,” Cruz said. “It isn’t rare today for actions like this to happen, but during the Banana Wars, it was quite common.” 

WATCH: Documentary clip about the Banana Wars. 

Know a weird history story that we should look into? Send us a tip to 

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: elycefeliz/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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