In Venezuela: Shortage of Medicine, Food, and Cooperation

Key facts about the protests in Venezuela and the crossroads citizens face. #sosvenezuelaSource: Wiki Commons My grandmother just fractured her hip and I am heading to the pharmacy to purchase surgical gauzes. Upon my arrival, the phar- macist tells me they have been out of surgical gauzes since early December and that I’m going to have trouble finding some in that part of Caracas. Twenty minutes later, I arrive at a second pharmacy. After a long wait, I get to the front of the line to find that they don’t have gauzes either. As I look for a third pharmacy, I start to get worried that I won’t be able to find this simple medical supply. My trip to the third pharmacy proves fruitful I find the gauzes and buy as many as I can afford to avoid future shortages. This situation is unfortunately far too common. On a daily basis, thousands of Venezuelans are unable to find the basic goods and medical supplies their families need. The shortage of basic goods, such as food and medical supplies, has been a pressing issue since early 2014. However, recently heightened political tensions have caused these shortages to grow increasingly worse. Today, the average Venezuelan is confronted with food shortages, rising inflation, salaries that do not support a living wage, and a constant fear of violent crime or death. Protestors have taken to the streets since February 12th condemning these issues in hope for change. It is worth noting that these problems are not new, but have recently spawned continuous public protests since mid-February: Key facts about the protests: February 4th, 2014 – Venezuelan students in San Cristobal, Táchira, peacefully protested against insecurity in response to the attempted rape of a student on the campus of the Universidad de Los Andres. The police attacked protesters with gas bombs and air shots, to which student protestors responded by striking back with stones. Three students were detained and taken to a high security prison. February 12th, 2014 – Because of the violent response of the San Cristobal police, Venezuelan students organized a national protest. Three people were killed by the National Guard and armed pro- government groups, many were also wounded, detained, or went missing. – The deaths surprised everyone. The exaggerated force used in the police’s response enraged people and motivated them to stay in the streets. March 23, 2014 – The balance is as follows: 1,850 protesters detained, over 1,000 wounded, 34 people dead, and 59 confirmed cases of torture. The deaths include both demonstrators and police officers. – Leopoldo López, an important opposition leader, was imprisoned and blamed for the deaths. Two other opposition mayors are imprisoned for the same reason. Opposition leaders have been promoting dialogue with the government to address Venezuela’s most pressing problems. Regardless of political preferences, Venezuelans agree that the shortage of basic goods and rampant crime are the most important problems to tackle. The call for negotiations was finally answered on February 26th, when Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro organized a National Peace Conference but failed to include major opposition leaders such as Caracas Mayor Antonio Ledezma, or Miranda Governor Henrique Capriles, who have been pressuring the government to have this national conversation. Maduro’s key points during the conference were: national coordination, stopping the violence surrounding the protests, national sovereignty against foreign intervention, and a second Peace Conference, which has yet to take place. The first conference has not produced any tangible results. On the contrary, violence against protesters continues to rise. Alejandro Dumont, an economics student at the Universidad Central de Venezuela (UCV) and president of his student organization, argues that a negotiation shouldn’t be necessary for the government to stop the repression. In Dumont’s list of objectives for the student movement, he hopes to liberate political prisoners, such as Leopoldo López, and disarm the paramilitary groups. Dumont noted that Maduro’s government is taking advantage of the violence because “it distracts [the population] from the real problems of the country, those that affect you regardless of your politics; chavista or not.” Despite the students’ efforts, their agenda doesn’t cover all of Venezuela’s problems. The economic situation needs an urgent solution. According to the Venezuelan Central Bank, in January 2014, inflation was at 57.3 percent. Prices continue to increase rapidly, while salaries have not been catching up. Furthermore, the Central Bank revealed a 28 percent shortage of goods, which explains why it has become so difficult to find basic goods in the Venezuelan market. Pedro Palma, former President of the Academy of Economic Sciences, argues that the government has not taken comprehensive action to bring about improvement and lacks the disposition to create shifts in the economy. The economic crisis has continued to worsen following the modest ini- tiatives that Maduro’s administra- tion implemented. “Decisive steps must be taken in terms of fiscal pol- icy, public services, gas prices, public spending and corruption,” said Palma. Today, the government is trapped between protests and an economic crisis. People are suffering and will continue to suffer, unless Venezuela invites all parties to the negotiating table and takes the necessary steps to reverse its course. Mariana Martin is a first-year Master of Public Administration student.

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