On November 9, thousands of people across Venezuela took to the streets to protest the presidency of Nicolas Maduro and his (mis)handling of the national economy.
The protests, called Marcha Autoconvocada (Self-convened March) quickly went viral on Twitter with the hashtag #9N, and took place not only in Caracas but in other major cities, such as Maracaibo, Valencia, San Cristobal and Merida.
The #9N protests have generally been reported as non-violent, despite of a couple of isolated incidents and the deployment of the Bolivarian police. Unsurprisingly, representatives from the opposition coalition, the Mesa de la Unidad Democratica (MUD), are trying to maintain this momentum of citizen discontent as the country is scheduled to havemunicipal elections on December 8.
The reasons for the protests are fairly straightforward. The country’s economy is worsening and inflation seems to worsen by the day. Recently, President Maduro took the controversial decision of seizing theDaka chain of electronic stores, arguing the wealthy elites of the city were purposely keeping some of the merchandise in order to increase the prices of their goods.
The Venezuelan head of state declared in a speech that the government would sell off the merchandise (i.e. plasma television sets) at lower prices to the Venezuelan citizenry.
According to a November 11 article in the Venezuelan daily El Nacional, since October 1, President Maduro has talked about the economy 24 out of 40 days on Venezuelan TV – an average of just over once every two days.
Moreover, the Venezuelan head of state has made a habit of proclaiming that there are conspiracies that seek to destabilize his government. The masterminds of said conspiracies include (unsurprisingly) the U.S., former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and also three Venezuelan opposition leaders who Maduro has dubbed the “trilogy of evil.”
Additionally, #9N protestors expressed their concern about citizen insecurity as crimes across the country are also alarmingly constant. Just this past weekend (November 9-10), 29 people suffered violent deaths in Caracas alone.
The Havana connection
But there was apparently another issue that Venezuelans protested against on #9N, namely the close relations between their government and Cuba.Several photos and Youtube videoshave been uploaded, apparently showing demonstrators from #9N who were burning Cuban flags. Some of the flags had messages such as “Get out of Venezuela” or “The Castros must Leave” written on them.
Without a doubt, the late President Hugo Chavez forged a close alliance with Cuba while he was in power, and he was a close friend of both Fidel and Raul Castro.
This close personal and governmental relationship was best exemplified by the joint projects that the two countries carried out, mostly to benefit the Caribbean island.
One good example is the subsidized Venezuelan oil that Cuba obtained from the Chavez government. Another Cuban-Venezuelan project was the initiative to build a nickel processing center in Holguin, Cuba – this past July it was reported that the project has been put on hold for four years.
Additionally,internet access in Cubahas improved thanks to an underwater fiber optic cable that originates in Venezuela.
This sparked a constitutional debate in Venezuela regarding who was in charge of the country and whether presidential elections should be called for.
The extent of the Cuban government’s influence over the daily decisions of the Venezuelan government is debatable.
Without falling into a discussion of conspiracy theories, we can note that several Venezuelan and other media outlets have reported for years the presence of Cuban military and intelligence personnel in the South American state, who apparently act in an advisory capacity to the Venezuelan armed forces.
For example, a September 2013 article in the Spanish daily ABC argued that Cuban military presence in Venezuela dates back to 2007, and that the structure of the Venezuelan armed forces has been remodeled to resemble that of the Cuban military.
Meanwhile, the Venezuela daily El Nacional reported this past July 29 that Cuban General Ramiro Valdes, a veteran of the Cuban Revolution and current Vice President of the Cuban Council of Minister, is the person who oversees Cuban’s military presence in Venezuela.
The recent #9N protests in Venezuela have demonstrated the growing discontent by several sectors of the population regarding where the country is heading, particularly when it comes to a deteriorating economy. Moreover, this past Saturday, Venezuelans protested what they see to be a growing Cuban influence in their country, particularly in the armed forces.
To what extent the Venezuelan opposition can capitalize on this popular discontent will be seen in December’s municipal elections.