That’s what’s new in the protests taking place in Venezuela — the conviction that the 21st-century socialism begun by former President Hugo Chávez has failed and has left the country in ruins. And there are other, darker new elements involved — police brutality, mass detentions and the use of paramilitary groups armed by the government to carry out the dirty work the military doesn’t want to handle: murdering people.
The demonstrations multiplied across the country. Hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets, knowing they face armed repression, because they have realized that the institutions that make democracy work are in grave danger and that they must defend themselves against a despotic government. What awakened them was the declaration made early last month by the attorney general, Luisa Ortega Díaz, concerning two resolutions, 154 and 155, issued by the Supreme Court’s constitutional division that in effect voided the National Assembly. She denounced the ruling as “breaking the thread of constitutional continuity,” words that were translated into a rallying cry for the protesters: “Maduro, coup-monger! We didn’t say so — the attorney general said so!”
In over a month of protests, 29 people have been killed, and there have been over 1,200 arbitrary detentions, according to human rights organizations and the prosecutor’s office. President Nicolás Maduro’s government went from autocracy to dictatorship in just a few weeks. Today, it’s only a step away from tyranny. But the people aren’t giving up. They’re no longer afraid. At long last, liberty and democracy have become an existential struggle, a matter of life and death.