Students Representative Council, University of Sydney

Talking about Venezuela the right way

Discussion about Venezuela are ignoring the real human cost of interventionism.

An artwork of people in business attire walking over the Venezuelan flag Artwork by Ludmilla Nunell (modified for website)

No matter where you stand on the political circumstances developing in Venezuela, the situation is nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. However, in this political maelstrom, the international community has focussed  on the insurgencies vying for power, allowing concerns for the day-to-day lives of Venezuelans to fall to the wayside. The selective empathy exhibited by actors within the Venezuelan plight is symptomatic of the larger trend of callous ignorance which saturates US-related conflicts.

At a glance,  Venezuela’s political landscape is volatile, littered with power conflicts. President Nicolas Maduro struggles to maintain power as he stares down challenges of leadership from self-proclaimed ‘President’ Juan Guido, who leads with the shadowy hand of the US on his shoulder. While this discord  is at the crux of contemporary media concerns, the painful scars of external intervention have long been etched into Venezuela’s core. The Obama administration played a significant role in such interventionism, declaring Venezuela a national security threat and imposing on it an illegal, non-United Nations backed sanction. Venezuela has adapted to fighting a war on two fronts: one against external malice masquerading as smiling suits of diplomacy, and one against itself.

The Guarimbas Protests are a key case study in the Venezuelan crisis. Like many threats to the state’s stability, these insurgencies are masked as peaceful protests which have  harmful ripple effects in reality, blocking off key supply and food routes, and choking out the population.  These instabilities have persisted on a backdrop  defined by an overwhelming lack of empathy. The West, instrumentalising the suffering of Venezuelans, paints the nation as a poster boy for the failings of socialism. The rest of the international order, albeit more sympathetic to Maduro’s cause, has given little concern to Venezuela’s citizenry.

The trickle down effects of this callous strain of political indifference are echoed in the quiet apathy of the USyd microcosm, which mirrors the selective empathy of the global community through Right and Left student discourses. Naturally, the Right echoes Western sentiments, only really expounding the topic as a case study to undermine the factions of the left in debate. This ignores fundamental systemic injustices which contribute to the instability of Venezuelan politics and the anguish of its people. The Right  have weaponised  the pain of the Venezuelan people to further their own political crusade against the left.

This is not to say that the left are immaculate in their engagement with the crisis. The left, although critically supporting Maduro’s regime and promoting the anti-imperialist and anti-colonial positions, remain  blinded to the struggle of the people by providing only a nominal ‘pat on the back’ to the Maduro administration, for the large part leaving the people of Venezuela as bystanders to their own struggle.

Amidst  these political struggles and uneven media coverage, the global audience has overlooked the true victims of this political turmoil. The victims are not the figureheads of the movement, nor the Western imperialists who ultimately risk nothing in their meddling. The victims are the people of Venezuela who have the most to lose: and have for the most part already lost. They are the tragic collateral damage of a war that they did not ask for or want and have been reduced to no more than statistics. We overlook not only their agony but their fundamental humanity and rights. If we are to call ourselves humanitarians, we must remain vigilant and sympathetic to the people of Venezuela, who have been torn and broken by the political friction of their home.