By Mary Granella
VALENCIA, Venezuela – People outside my country probably have no idea what’s been happening in Venezuela for the last couple of years, but life has gotten even worse in the year since our late President Hugo Chavez died.
Since the death of Chavez on March 5, 2013, Venezuela has sunken even deeper into a moral, social, economic and political crisis.
Our inflation rate closed last year at more than 56 percent, the highest since 1996, according to the Central Bank of Venezuela, and it is still climbing.
The monthly minimum wage here is only 3,000 bolivars – about $477 in U.S. dollars – but one month worth of groceries is about 6,500 bolivars, too expensive for anyone.
On top of that, in the past year, shortages of basic products have risen sharply.
Flour, oil, coffee, sugar and even toilet paper are all things people just can't seem to find anywhere nowadays.
In supermarkets, people start getting in line even before sunrise and soldiers from the National Guard literally stamp a number on them to prevent others from cutting in line, just like a farmer would treat his cows.
After six or seven hours, when you can finally go inside the supermarket – and if you're lucky enough to see there's anything left in the shelves – you’ll find a huge sign that reads, “ONLY 2 PER PERSON.”
That means you can only buy two (sometimes four) packages of whatever you need. Only 2 kilos (about 4 pounds) of sugar per person or 2 kilos of flour, which is basically nothing when the average Venezuelan family is made of five or six people who usually make a living out of selling food on the streets.
Venezuelans are tired of this tyrannical, dictatorial government, and protests are breaking out.
Since last Saturday, people have been gathering in squares all over the country and marching together peacefully. The protesters, mostly students from high schools or colleges, had no weapons.
At first, students from only two or three cities started these protests, but yesterday it was nationwide. And it got dangerous.
Public and private school students, workers from private companies and the unemployed all got together to march.
And what did we get? Two people dead and more than 70 hurt, according to news reports.
On orders from President Nicolas Maduro, the National Guard and the local police forces dissolved these peaceful protests. But the way went about it wasn’t peaceful at all.
From tear gas to birdshot and sometimes even real bullets aimed to the head and chest, they apparently shot away, not minding at all who they hit.
Bassil Dacosta, a first semester student in the capital city of Caracas, was killed by a gunshot to the head. Dozens of other students were wounded by birdshot to the legs as they walked.
But nothing stopped them from protesting. Members of these groups stayed on the streets until the early hours this morning. Some left to get some sleep because they're going back out to continue their protests today. No deaths will be in vain.
Venezuelan opposition leader
Leopoldo López, shown in a
photo from his website.
The only way anyone here can get any information about what's going on are social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Why? Because yesterday the government shut down the signals of several television and radio stations to prevent us from knowing about what's going out on the outside.
On Twitter, some families in Caracas wrote about National Guard throwing bombs inside the houses and setting places on fire. Families were crying for help as they searched for their missing loved ones.
There are reports of more than 100 students detained and carried to prison just for exercising their Constitutional right to protest. Now they could be facing up to 13 years in prison.
I'm writing these words because I don't know how much coverage Venezuela has gotten internationally, but we're crying for help.
We need someone to stop this. Since Chavez died and Maduro took over, 23,000 people have been murdered in the streets. In Carabobo, the state where I live, at least 60 people get murdered every weekend.
Venezuela is dying, its people are suffering and our national television shows nothing but government celebrations and even worse, government officials trashing our leaders from the opposition movement.
The government is searching for Leopoldo López, one of our main leaders in the opposition, in order to capture him and get him to prison. They're blaming everything that happened yesterday on him.
But they will not silence us. There are now many videos on YouTube about what has been going on.
We’re speaking out.
Venezuela is being taken away from us. But they've taken away so many things, they've even taken away our fears.